Monday, February 11, 2008

Lawd Today! A sad story

More than anything, Lawd Today! struck me as an overwhelmingly negative view of the African-American condition in the pre-civil rights era. Yet the book's depressing message goes beyond the immediate time-frame of the novel. Richard Wright's story imparts a sense of endless repression from outside forces as well as those within. Perhaps a call to action, Richard Wright highlights the most limiting obstacles to Jake's life and, presumably, explores his troubles as the universal struggle of black men in a society designed to marginalize them. Those obstacles facing black men, as offered by Wright's novel, are both self and externally imposed.
In Jake's case, his troubles seem as much his own doing as his society's. He abuses his devoted wife, spends his money unwisely, and just seems totally aloof to his responsibilities. On the other hand, the root of his problem, Wright seems to imply, is that the unequal treatment of blacks perpetuates Jake's unwitting self-limitation by denying him the means to gain a sense of self-worth. All his shortcomings are rooted in a constant feeling of needing to prove his worth and assure himself of his being important and powerful. With money he has unlimited means to control his situation (before it's stolen) and when he beats his wife, it gives him a distorted sense of empowerment.
Wright's cesspool of characters are caught in a struggle thatbreeds depravity and it pervades throughout the book. Ultimately, I found the book to be a pessimistic view of the African American experiene, both in the unreformed pre-civil rights era and through present day.

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