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Abstract

The book Black Boy is Richard Wright’s memoir where he describes his childhood and adolescence. The book celebrates his talent for narrative when Wright describes the brutal South from the perspective of Afro Americans in the period between 1900 and 1945. Probably not meant to be a commentary of social situation, Wright’s Black Boy has undoubtedly become a very important piece of African-American literature as the book deals with the prejudices, social inequality and situation within the black community. Winesburg, Ohio is partly novel and a collection of short stories at the same time written by Sherwood Anderson. The specific feature of the book is that it consists of twenty-four sections, and the first story serves as an introduction. Every story shares a specific part of the past of one of the various inhabitants and his or her current struggle to overcome the isolation and loneliness that surrounds Winesburg, a small town they live in around the turn of the century.

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Comparison of Black Boy by Richard Wright and Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

Winesburg, Ohio is based on the life of George Willard, the protagonist of the book, from the time of his childhood to Willard’s growing independence and finally ultimate abandonment of his hometown as a young man. In spite of the fact that both Black Boy written by Richard Wright and Winesburg, Ohio written by Sherwood Anderson are quite similar in the narrative effect they leave on readers, they differ in the perspectives they use.

George Willard is a young reporter who figures prominently in the book. Throughout Winesburg, Ohio, Willard plays the dual role of recorder and listener of the stories and gives advice to other inhabitants of the town. Some stories were told to Willard by participants or witnesses. He is a young representative of Winesburg’s hopes whose growing-up reaches its highest point in “Departure”, a final tale, when he leaves his hometown for the city. The greatest part of Willard’s development is centered around his artistic and sexual maturation that influence his narration.

The narrative of Winesburg, Ohio is written in the third person. The narrator is omniscient and occasionally breaks away from the story he is telling to directly addressing the reader or making self-conscious comments as it was, for instance, in the story called “Hands” where he firstly described the story’s poignant nature and later self-conscious comment that “It is a job for a poet” (Anderson 1919, p. 10) and adds, “It needs a poet there” (Anderson 1919, p. 12) later in the same story. However, what is interesting is that such remarks appear not very often as the plot of the book progresses.

In Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson emphasizes on the psychological insights of the characters of the book over its plot which is a characteristic of works of Modernist literature. The role of plot is truly minimal. It can be explained by that Winesburg, Ohio is an expressionist drama, and that is why there is not big development of story lines in terms of cause and effect.

In the book moral tone prevails as well as unconventional storytelling. Winesburg, Ohio opens with a prologue-like “The Book of the Grotesque,” a section in which an old writer with no name has a bedtime vision of people who seek for different “truths” to so such a great extent that it makes them become “grotesque.” Thus, through illustration of these hallucinations, the author prepares the reader to perceive the stories from the lives of the inhabitants of the small Winesburg.

Anderson illustrates the characters quite specifically; the author’s storytelling makes the souls of inhabitants of Winesburg somehow deformed. To my mind, the author was guided by an instinct to present everything altogether that made the whole novel or collection of the short stories to look like a dream. However, as one goes on reading, it becomes obvious that most of such deformations spring from two sources linked together such as alienation and loneliness. It appears when Anderson writes about characters which are completely cut off from contact with others for instance, Wing Biddlebaum, Enoch Robinson, Alice Hindman, Elizabeth Willard and Louise Bentley among others.

In Winesburg, Ohio, though the title of each story notes one character; some characters appear only once and the others appear several times. There are a total amount of characters named in the book that is more than 100. Characters figure in dramas and anecdotes covering a relatively long period within the stories; a great part of the action takes place during narrator’s teenage years, however, there are also several episodes going back few generations as it was in “Godliness”, in about twenty years as it was in “Hands”, etc. In his narration, Anderson expresses a desperate need of people to communicate, however, what is not often understood about Winesburg, Ohio is that the narrator’s continual frustration serves as the context arising several bright moments of understanding.

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The notion of Winesburg, Ohio is to be an objective report. Anderson uses lyrical, evocative, nostalgic, even sentimental effects of the novels of nineteenth century in his depictions of what hides underneath the psychological surface of a small Midwestern town. Anderson reoriented the facts that were typical for realist novels and incorporated the inner beliefs of his characters about themselves to be the part of reality.

Unlike to Winesburg, Ohio, the characters of Black Boy are more real. The style of Wright’s narration is analytic as well as metaphysical, because the discussion of dreams and ghosts are also present in the book. In his memoir, the narrator is not afraid to emphasize on the paradoxical nature of his character: he is critical and tolerant, seeking and skeptical, headstrong and timid, blindingly intelligent and modest. Wright finds that he is always punished for his nonconformity with different degrees of emotional isolation and physical violence. Wright paints himself in various shades throughout the Black Boy. Being a young boy, the narrator refuses to believe in such publicly accepted notions as that his lack of religion, intellectual curiosity and blackness make him flawed. Wright even has curiosity to demonstrate clearly negative aspects of his character, as he makes the readers see him violent, lie, and steal a number of times in the book.

The narrator makes the readers close their eyes to such “flaws” and think of him as a character who determined to live according to his own principles. Wright creates an interesting contradiction and strong contrast between his strong will and his powerless position in society that requires him to be low in social status as if he is black he “has” to be poor. Wright proves that in spite of all his flaws, he remains truly concerned with humanity in a universal sense. Thus, the author shows that it is possible to overcome the negative, isolating, and debilitating aspects of the environment and alter them into love for people around. In Black Boy, Wright transcends what seems to be a novel from a limited perspective of the black male who lives in American society at first glance.

During the novel, Wright discovers the power of his own and words in general as well as the power of his own writing. Describing his physical and artistic hunger, Wright makes his readers hungry for reading and writing. Wright ends Black Boy by resolving to use his talent to write as a way to start a revolution. The narrator is sure that everybody has a hunger for life, freedom and equality that need to be filled, and for Wright, writing is the right way to get to the human heart and to make a difference.

The thing that attracts the reader the most is that the narrators in both Black Boy by Richard Wright and Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson are illustrated emotional children in spite of being adults physically. Both authors make the readers watch how they go through their adolescence and attain physical adulthood in order to share their experiences and help growing generations to understand themselves better and avoid some mistakes if possible. The use of first person in narration of Black Boy makes the novel to be more emotionally strong and controversial. It attracts readers’ interest and makes a huge impact on them. The use of the third person in Winesburg, Ohio makes the perception to be more emotionally distant, however, objective in contrast of subjectivity in Black Boy.

The Context of Narrative Effect

In spite of the fact that both Black Boy is written by Richard Wright and Winesburg, Ohio written by Sherwood Anderson are quite similar in the narrative effect they leave on readers, they differ in the perspectives they use. Winesburg, Ohio is written from the perspective of the third person while Black Boy is written from the perspective of the first person which increases the effect the narration makes on the readers. Wright’s narration is more analytical and subjective while Anderson tries to create an effect of an objective report, however, in a lyrical and even sentimental mood. Both Wright and Anderson want their readers to believe that their choice to remain children inside and to leave their hometowns was the right one.

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