Richard Wright is a profound Black author who writes about what being a Black male is like in an overtly racist society (as seen in Native Son and this text). This text begins with the narrator being falsely accused of murdering a white couple and being beaten into submission by the cops that unjustly arrest him. He escapes police custody, only to find the only safe place to escape to is through a manhole cover and down into the underground bowels of the city.
Wright perfectly captures the horror, the indignation, the fear that the narrator feels as he is falsely accused of murder. I felt the same suspense that the narrator must have felt as he navigated being arrested, escaping, and disappearing underground.
This text deals with themes of race, violence in the form of police brutality, civilized versus savagery, the individual versus society, and visibility (both hypervisibility and invisibility).
A downfall of this book would be the lack of clear description; it was difficult for me to envision the underground setting, especially when the narrator was discovering different rooms. Overall, this lack of description made it difficult for me to stay engrossed in this text because I couldn’t visualize the text and therefore wasn’t as immersed as I could have been.
I would recommend this book to anyone who read and loved his Native Son and to anyone who is interested in the Black experience (and just how little it seems to have changed 70+ years later).
Well worth reading and sharing. Richard Wright's work remains indelible and The Man Who Lived Underground is literary work to dive into and appreciate. Highly recommended.
“The Man Who Lived Underground” is a previously-unpublished novel by famed author Richard Wright (author of Native Son). This short novel was originally rejected for publication seventy years ago and now presented posthumously.
It starts out as a typical story of racial injustice where an African-American man is picked up by the police and blamed for a double murder. Beaten into submission, he signs a confession. But, rather than focus on proving his innocence, Wright takes his novel in an entirely different direction which is what makes it so fascinating.
For this man escapes and hides in the sewers, tunneling into basements. In a split second, he leaves Civilization and exists apart from it. Obviously an allegory for so many things this living underground and living an invisible life. No one knows he’s down there and no one suspects he’s hiding there.
Told from only his point of view, it is a universal tale of how easily society’s bonds are broken and how quickly we can become completely disconnected. And it also becomes an existential story about the meaning of life and how easily it is to separate and leave an unfair world. Looking at things from the outside - in his hidden cave beneath the city, the lead character thinks about what matters and what has meaning. It is thus not the same novel you may have thought you were going to read, yet a case study of what it means to be alive. Written starkly, it is impressive what a skilled writer Wright is.