Olaudah Equiano – Gustavus Vassa – His Experiences From His Enslavement Stimulating Black Literature

Olaudah Equiano’s early life began about 1745 in the village “Essaka” near the River Niger, an Igbo-speaking region of present-day Nigeria where his father was a chief who settled disputes amongst the tribesmen. Equiano the youngest son lived with six bothers and sisters one being younger than him, as part of a large family. At the early age of eleven, Equiano and his sister were kidnapped and forced into slavery in a neighboring village.

He changed hands a few times before he was sold to white slave traders and transported by ship across the Atlantic Ocean to Barbados in the West Indies..

Equiano was kept just a few days not exceeding a fortnight at Barbados before he was put aboard “a sloop for North America,” and eventually “landed up a river a good way from the sea, about Virginia county “. The kind of work that this newly arrived boy to America was put to, weeding grass and gathering field stones, and then fanning his bedridden master, was consonant with his age (probably under ten years). Equiano having been carried from Barbados on a ship other than the Nancy then, would most likely have been taken to a part of “Virginia county” where few Igbo were taken, and thus buiding in him his sense of isolation.

At the slave plantation in Virginia where Equiano was taken to and engaged, he observed with horror the treatment of fellow slaves inside the house. He was horrified at the use of an “iron muzzle” around their mouth to keep them quiet thus rendering them barely able to speak or eat. The objects inside the house amazed and frightened him considerably. He even thought the pictures hanging on the wall followed him wherever he went, and a clock hanging from the chimney would tell his master about anything he would do wrong.

Whilst there he was seen and bought by Michael Pascal, a captain in the Royal Navy. Pascal renamed him Gustavus Vassa after King Gustav I of Sweden. Though Equiano at first detested the name, he later on used it in most of his writings and became known by it.

Being Pascal’s personal servant, he was afforded naval training which enabled him to travel extensively and contribute in times of battle. He often served as a seaman. His duties included hauling gunpowder to the gun decks. He was at the Seven Years War of England with France and at the siege of Fort Louisburg in Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

He later sent to Pascal’s female friends, to attend school and learn to read in England. The other servants had already warned Equiano that if he wasn’t baptized he wouldn’t be able to go to Heaven. So his master allowed him to be baptized. This was done in St. Margaret’s church, Westminster, in February 1759. His honesty and trustworthiness won him friendship and support from many English people.

Equiano soon got disappointed. Despite the special treatment Pascal had been according Equiano, after the war was won, he didn’t receive his share of the prize money awarded to the other sailors, nor did he get his freedom. He was greatly disappointed as it seemed that he had been deceived as well as betrayed.

Later, to his greatest dismay he found himself been put back on the market But his many ship skills made him too valuable for plantation labour. His knowledge in hairdressing, wine making, arithmetic and his becoming fully literate in the English Language made him less desirable to some slave traders. He was too well educated for some and the fact that he knew how to navigate a ship scared many away from him. So it took some time before he could be bought

He was eventually acquired by Robert King, a Quaker merchant from Philadelphia who carried on much of his business in the Caribbean, often trading in ‘live cargos’. From much of what he saw made him grateful to his Quaker master’s treatment of him. Though that did not for a moment give him any illusions about what the loss of freedom entailed. He saw the ugliest side of American life in both the North and South. Even in Philadelphia, a city built on the promise of brotherly love he observed freed blacks being treated with profound contempt, and being ‘plundered’ and ‘universally insulted’ with no possibility of redress.

King, soon, set Equiano to work on his shipping routes and in his stores, promising him in 1765, that for forty pounds, the price King had paid for Equiano, he could buy his freedom. King taught him to read and write more fluently, educated him in the Christian faith, and allowed him to engage in his own profitable trading as well as on his master’s behalf, thus enabling him to come by the forty pounds honestly. As a result, Equiano in his early twenties succeeded in buying his freedom. Once having gained his freedom through saving forty pounds earned through his own instincts for enterprise, carrying on his own business while managing King’s – he pledged never again to set foot on American soil.

This was despite King’s urging him to stay on as a business partner. For Equiano, it was dangerous and limiting to remain in the British American colonies as a freed black. For while loading a ship in Georgia, he was almost kidnapped back into slavery. He was only released when the level of his education was made apparent. It now resolved to settle in London for the rest of his life. This he did in 1769. He was making his living there as a free servant as well as a hair dresser for affluent Londoners. But his skill as a seaman and his always remarkable curiosity made him restless for new adventures. But before that he had learnt to play the French horn which he kept playing onto mastering it to the level of an accomplished musician. He went on even on to expanding his study of Mathematics.

Equiano through his story of enslavement, transportation, maritime slavery in a time of European war, kidnapping a second time into slavery (from London to Montserrat), his travels, and his freedom, winding up back in London in 1767, when he was about twenty-two years old. his adventures at sea through the 1773 Arctic Expedition on the royal navy ship the Racehorse, and his rebirth as an ardent Anglican, which ironically was followed by participating in a scheme to create a slave-based plantation on the Miskito Coast (Caribbean Central America). In the end, Equiano (universally still known as Vassa) turned to anti-slave trade agitation,living as he did in England in the mid-1780s, which led to his official service in the 1786-87 effort to “repatriate” (perhaps better thought of as to deport) Africans in Britain to Sierra Leone, a royal service that made him a controversial public figure. Equiano clearly was inspired by his activism to write and publish and popularize the “interesting narrative” of his life, a powerful story though one with many internal contradictions and inconsistencies. , a work as much of politicized memory as of personal history..

Equiano remained at sea for several years even after buying his freedom. He voyaged to the Arctic as a surgeon’s assistant and to the Mediterranean as a gentleman’s valet, and lived for a time among the Makito Indians of Nicaragua. He then returned to England, where after Somerset’s Case of 1772 it was proclaimed that no person could be a slave in England itself.

Back in London Equiano became involved in the abolitionist movement. The movement had been particularly strong amongst Quakers, but was by now non-denominational. Equiano himself was broadly Methodist, having been influenced by George Whitefield’s evangelism in the New World which seemed to be taking the nation as a storm.

Equiano proved to be a popular speaker himself and was introduced to many senior and influential people, who encouraged him to write and publish his life story. He was supported financially by philanthropic abolitionists and religious benefactors who promoted his lectures and helped him in the preparation for the book. They were amongst others, Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.

This prototype of the slave narrative, a form of autobiography that in the nineteenth century gained a wide international readership due to its compelling firsthand testimony against slavery in bulky two volumes, tells a richly detailed story of seagoing adventure, spiritual enlightenment, and economic success in England and the Americas. in this impressive publication, Equiano’s espouses the highest ideals of his era in the language of the ordinary man and woman. His account surprised many with the quality of its imagery, its vivid description, its mature literary style, as well as its lively narrative which profoundly shamed those who had not joined the abolition effort. Entitled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, when first published in 1789 made a hit sold well and rapidly went through several editions.- 36 editions between 1789 and 1857 and was translated into Dutch and German. It is said to have been one of the earliest known examples of published writing by an African writer. It was the first influential slave autobiography. Its first-hand account of the horrors of slavery and of the experiences of an 18th-century black immigrant caused a sensation, fuelling a growing anti-slavery movement in England.

After its publication Equiano travelled extensively in England and Ireland promoting it.

Largely forgotten for 150 years, and then rediscovered in the 1960s, Equiano’s Interesting Narrative today is central to the canonof early modern Atlantic literature and history. It is taught in university courses and area studies as widely varying as African, African American, American, Caribbean, and World history/literature, and similar courses in allied disciplines. Equiano today is regarded as the most famous African, and certainly the most famous self-identified (Igbo), in the early modern Atlantic world, or,at the least, in the era of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. According to Henry Louis Gates Jr. Equiano is “the most important black man in the eighteenth century.”

Surprisingly, given his importance, Equiano has attracted only a handful of serious biographers. One work, a literary biography by Angelo Costanza,Surprising Narrative: Olaudah Equiano and the Beginnings of Black Autobiography (1987), was published two decades ago, and another, a rather uncritical but still useful historical biography by James Walvin, An African’s Life: The Life and Times of Olaudah Equiano, 1745-1797, was published in 1998. And, the Narrative has been endlessly excerpted and anthologized.

Equiano is essentially seen as a “self-made man.” comparable to that most famous of contemporary self-made men, Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), whose posthumous autobiography was published in 1793, “rather than considering Equiano an African American Franklin we would more accurately call Franklin an Anglo-American Equiano” Indeed,in Equiano’s own account, there was a moment in his life, in early 1759, when he first felt, not satirically but earnestly, “almost an Englishman.” or “almost an Atlantic creole”

Further Readings:

Gates, Louis, Jr and Mckay Nellie Y., l (eds) The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, 1997 New York

AFRICANA Arts and Letters. An A-Z Reference of Writers, Musicians and Artists of the African American Experiences

Paul Edwards, ed., Equiano’s Travels (Oxford: Heinemann, 1967);

Olaudah Equiano, _The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,Written by Himself_, ed. Robert J. Allison (Boston: Bedford Books,1995).

For the history of the Narrative’ s publication,

James Green, “The Publishing History of Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative_,” _Slavery and Abolition_ 16, no. 3 (1995): 362-375.

The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, ed. Vincent Carretta (1995), 77.

“Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa? New Light on anEighteenth-Century Question of Identity,” _Slavery and Abolition_ 20, no. 3 (1999): 96-105.

Paul E. Lovejoy, in extended review essay, “Autobiography and Memory: Gustavus Vassa, alias Olaudah Equiano, the African,” _Slavery and Abolition_ 27, no. 3 (2006):317-347.

See also the testy exchange between the two that followed:

Carretta, “Response to Paul Lovejoy’s ‘Autobiography and Memory:Gustavus Vassa, alias Olaudah Equiano, the African’,” _Slavery and

Abolition_ 28, no. 1 (2007): 115-119; and Lovejoy, “Issues of Motivation– Vassa/Equiano and Carretta’s Critique of the Evidence,”

_Slavery and Abolition_ 28, no. 1 (2007): 121-125

Alexander X. Byrd, “Eboe, Country, Nation, and Gustavus Vassa’s _Interesting Narrative,”William and Mary Quarterly_ 63, no. 1 (2006): 123-148.

. Carretta, “Response to Paul Lovejoy,” 115.

Benjamin Ajak, Alephonsion Deng, and Benson Deng, _They Poured Fired on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan_ (New York: Public Affairs, 2005).

_Interesting Narrative_, ed. Carretta, 62.

James Walvin, _An African’s Life: The Life and Times of Olaudah Equiano, 1745-1797_ (London: Continum, 1998), 162, 164.

Action Research Cycle: Write a Formal Review of Literature – Step 1 Discovery

Discover: This week you will:

1. Discover what is involved in organizing and evaluating the resources you are finding in order to outline your arguments and begin to write your review of the literature. You will begin to map your discussion, reporting as you do, by week 2 how those plans are developing so that your colleagues may assist prior to the time your rough draft of your outline is due.

2. Discover that part of comprehension and expertise is the ability to demonstrate connections between various authors. The ability to come back to a resource discovered at an earlier stage and extrapolate new ideas can be the result of taking adequate notes as you read.

3. Discover and exchange ideas about how to use the electronic tools at your disposal to benefit this search.

Outcomes and Benefits to You For Doing This Work

A solid review of the literature assures you that you have a baseline of knowledge on which to begin your own research. You will know that you have reached this plateau when you can carry on an informed discussion with an expert in your field of study. Having this base of expertise will help you focus the particulars of your study and save hours of unnecessary starts and stops during the development of your final methodology, data collection and analysis.

Another benefit is that you will catch glimpses of how other researchers approached their work, including the variables you found interesting to study. This can help you craft your final research questions as well as to suggest pre-existing instruments you may want to use. You may also see that you don’t possess the necessary skills to tackle research, giving you the opportunity to build those skills or define a new methodology (Mauch & Park, 2003).

Along those same lines you will see how others write up their work. Make special note of dissertations that you find easy to read, or which discuss their methodology in a way that makes sense. Mark them in your End Note database as documents to come back to when you start to write the same sections.

Another list you will want to note is of other questions that come to mind as you write. Should it happen, you won’t be the first doctoral student who is forced by circumstance to change topic mid stream. It is useful to have noted all those, “What if?” ideas that come to your mind as you read others work. One of them may turn out to be a better redefinition of your topic area (Mauch & Park, 2003).

Finally, you will prove, at least in your own mind that your ideas are really needed in the field. When you find yourself disagreeing with an author, or saying, “Wait, you missed a whole segment of students here,” etc. you know you are on the right track. Even if you are faced with the opposite issue – here in front of you is a report that is everything you could ever dream of, this allows you to slant your work to broaden the impact of the previous work by confirming or denying it in a new arena.

Inclusion of Multiple Sources Does it seem like all your sources are saying approximately the same thing? The short answer to this question is that multiple sources are the difference between graduate research and real expertise. Searching out nuances is the standard of the expert and when you finish your final graduate work it is your goal to take you place among those people with that standard.

The stated purpose of the lit review is to, “clarify the relationship between the proposed study and previous work conducted on the topic” (Rudestam & Newton, 2007, pg 62). Other authors mention, “Obtaining detailed, cutting-edge knowledge of your topic” (Roberts, 2004, pg 73). Therefore it is important that you have truly captured the field in your study, internationally as well as nationally and locally (thus displaying the level of influence your final study is likely to have). It is your job to convince your reader of the uniqueness and importance of your study. Remember what may be obvious to you will not have the same meaning to your committee members who specialize in different parts of the field.

The trap for students in this pressure to display knowledge across many writers is that you come to think of the lit review as a laundry list of all that you have investigated. Not true, remember that each and every book or article you cite and reference must directly correspond to your final message. For this reason you may find it helpful to write a sentence per main point that you want to make and then list the references that you may use to naturally make that point. All the others fall off to the “not used” category.

Should you be researching a particularly obscure topic you may find that you do a lot of work for little gain. In this case keep two EndNote files. One will hold those few resources that you use and the other the resources you investigated but discarded. This has two positive affects: 1) it demonstrates the amount of work you have done, and 2) discussing the list you won’t use may lead your critical friends to suggest new sources to research.

Analysis, Synthesis and Organization

More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections so as to be able to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways.

W. Cronon, (as cited by Siemens. G, 2008)

The most difficult part of a review of the literature is the organization and expression of the ideas that come from what you have read. Let’s take for instance the following pattern of research

You read book by AA. Author who make three great points about your topic you label those points X, Y and Z.

You read book by BB Author who agrees with X but adds ideas M and N to the discussion.

CC Author refutes Y and Z but agrees with M and adds T.

DD Author has an entirely different idea although you see loose connections to the others. You also believe the DD has the most advanced ideas that you have read.

Students who have not analyzed, synthesized and organized their ideas will report the Author A said…. Author B said…. And Author C said…… We cannot stress enough that this IS NOT ADEQUATE FOR A LIT REVIEW! To paraphrase Hart (1998):

The aim is to show that you have mapped out the main issues on a subject; examined the use of concepts and the ways in which comparisons have and can be made, seen how complex ideas can be described; and come to an understanding on the role of methodological assumptions have had in shaping the literature that came before your study (pg. 109).

Your write up will likely contain four types of discussion: Analysis requires you to differentiate or separate resources and the ideas contained within them, one from another. Synthesis on the other hand integrates or combines separate sections of different resources together, usually reorganized to demonstrate principles that you believe to be significant in your study. Interpretation distinguishes the relationships between different types of data, theory, and arguments and hold your reader sort them out. Knowledge describes for your reader what you have learned about the situations, methods, rules, classifications, etc of the topics inherent in your study.

Your lit review will contain those four types of organization across one or many of the following.

Mapping out the issues

In the set of examples above the issues are the places where the various authors agree and disagree. You may also choose to map out the issues by using a graphic organizer to distinguish places of agreement and disagreement in any of the points of argumentation (discussed in the next section). Claims may agree or disagree across authors, as may warrants, data and the arguments we use to back up our claims. It is likely that you will go back to examine key resources more than once as you map out the issues across them.

You also may choose to map the issues in chronological, methodological or political contexts, depending on which most clearly describes the tensions inherent within your study. As an example, a study on the academic efficacy of alternative programs would have to map the issues inherent in the populations that would use the programs under study.

Examining the concepts

What are the big ideas that strike you as you read? How do they pertain as you see it to your topic? These lead to your analysis of the concepts behind or overarching your topic. An examination of the key concepts must be helpful to your research to be understood by your audience.

Part of the purpose of the review of literature is to help your reader understand what has come before as well as the key issues and concepts that are inherent in previous discussions in order to place your study in context. Look at your discussion of the concepts and ideas that has driven the work of authors in your area as your setting a firm foundation from which your reader can understand the context and importance of your work.

An analogy that may be useful is as though you have constructed a goblet out of the little bits of ideas (seen as colored glass) that you have gleaned from your reading. Once the goblet is complete you need to hold it up to the light and then discuss for your reader the ways in which the light bounces off of the different components, how you work together to form the shape, and the areas where you join to construct an object strong enough to be useful.

Describing complexity

Many times authors are studying complex adaptive issues. By definition these dismay us because they put us in the center of the tension between the ideal and reality. For instance, in perfection we might desire businesses that do everything right or schools that run perfectly. We would wish that all of the staff were happy in their work and had abundant resources at their disposal. The realities in many schools or businesses are that none of these ideals exist.

Whatever the key tensions, that surround your topic, you will need to have explored them as part of your review of the literature. This discussion is another means of ensuring your reader has adequate contextual understanding of your topic to make judgments on the efficacy of your study.

Unpacking methodological assumptions in previous studies

As you have researched your issue you have been exposed to how a variety of researchers have examined topics similar and tangential to yours. They have based their research methods on their own assumptions or understanding about how best to measure the answers to their questions. It is an appropriate discussion within a review of literature to unpack for your reader these past studies and the assumptions on which they were based. In this way, your writing will naturally flow towards your discussion of your own methodological choices in both the lit review and Chapter 3 in a dissertation or the methodology in any required research proposal.

Quantitative studies assume that enough is known about the topic and the human relationships that determine its complexities that these can be questioned across large numbers of people using a similar instrument. For years, proponents of diversity have challenged this assumption, playing on cultural differences to argue that use of language may differ among communities to the degree as to make surveys meaningless.

Qualitative studies on the other hand assume that data gathered from a few people, albeit data that create depth in understanding their personal relationships to a topic, will have significance to the whole population. Qualitative studies assume that it is important to understand the personal mechanisms within educational relationships of a few and that these can be extrapolated to the groups you represent.

Quantitative and qualitative studies read very differently and come to separate types of conclusions. Again, in order for your reader to understand your topic and the others who have studies it you need to help them understand these subtleties.

The bottom line here is: READ AND MAKE NOTE OF THE METHODOLOGY USED IN THE STUDIES YOU READ. From those notes you can more easily design your own methodology.

Argumentation

What is an argument? How do we analyze those of others or make one ourselves? The principles of argumentation have not changed much since the Greeks and Romans. Stephen Toulmin (1958 later cited and redefined by Hart, 1998) laid out a simple structure that breaks an argument into four types of information:

1. Claim – an arguable statement.

2. Evidence – data used to backup the claim

3. Warrant – the link between the evidence and the claim (since a then b)

4. Backing – the context and assumptions that support the validity of the warrant and the evidence (because)

Let’s say that we want to make the claim that our new program increased the motivation of our staff. We have evidence that shows that the staff who attend our program do better with customers than those who do not attend our program. Whether or not others will believe our claim will hinge on the degree to which we: a) link the staff motivation to the evidence of their customer service records and b) back up the assumption with stories or other research that support our conclusions.

Much of our experience of the world is determined by personal and cultural taste, our context and values. These may all cause people to disagree with our claims, creating situations where the evidence, warrant and backing will receive close scrutiny. For this reason a solid argument can be made for predetermining the type of claim being made and the likely weakness in each.

Type of Claim

Potential Weaknesses

Claiming Facts

The facts you state cannot be verified or are incorrect. Claims of fact do not rely on warrants or backing (other than citing your sources). An example here would be a report on the numbers of computers in the school.

Claiming Values

Relies on the other person agreeing with the basic judgment involved. Disagreement will lead to either denial or counterclaim such as “No, because…” or “Yes, but perhaps…” To build on the previous argument a person might make a claim that the school needed more computers because of the value of technology in the world today.

Claiming Policy

Relies on a normative statement of what ought to or not be done. You often use claims of values as support, laying the argument open for debate on two fronts, that of the value or of the need for the policy. A claim in this category might be that schools should provide laptops for students in order to properly prepare them for the future.

Claiming Concept

Relies on a personally derived definition. Disagreement will cause the argument to be countered by proposing an alternative definition. It is likely that the choice of words is highly interpretive. In education topics may include the advisability of retaining a student or the desirability of standards based high stakes testing.

Claiming Interpretation

Propose how data are to be understood. Disagreement mounts an alternative interpretation. For some small schools have shown themselves to be at an advantage in improving students achievement, for others these same data can be interpreted in an alternative manner.

Figure 1 based on Table 4.3 from Hart, 1998, page 90

Warrants are the assumptions on which the arguments are based, tying the claim to the evidence that supports it. Like claims, these can be stated or unstated, but if stated a counter argument must take the warrant into account. As an example to the extent that we believe that the purpose of business is to make money, then we can lay claim for greater emphasis placed on financial records and auditors reports.

Limitations to the argument may be stated clearly as in, “A limitation to this study is…..” Qualifiers may point to limitation without the same amount of clarity. Therefore, the savvy researcher is on the lookout for words such as probably, some, many, too, or generally. If and when you find literature that, while it agrees with your general arguments, relies on claims that are easily refuted or qualifies its claims, it is best to keep searching.

Finally, illustrations used to back up arguments. Specific instances, like irrefutable data do much to convince an audience of the validity of a claim. As Hart (1998) points out, “Concrete illustrations are usually much more convincing than hypothetical or generalized scenarios. However, the main and most common form of backing (in a review of the literature) is the legitimacy conferred on an argument through the use of academic style.”

References

Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: Releasing social science research imagination. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.

Mauch, J. E., & Park, N. (2003). Guide to the successful thesis and dissertation: A handbook for students and faculty. New York: Marcel Dekker.

Roberts, C. M. (2004). The dissertation journey. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Rudestam, K. E., & Newton, R. R. (2007). Surviving your dissertation: A comprehensive guide to content and process (Third ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing Inc.

Richard Wright’s Social and Literary Education Continues As He Matures As a Writer in the North

During the Great Depression Richard Wright changed several other jobs. For following the Wall Street crash which ushered in the depression, the volume of mails dropped, Wright’s working hours were thus cut back considerably before he finally lost his postal job. He then began work, in 1930, on a novel, Cesspool, about black life in Chicago that was published posthumously as Lawd Today! reflecting his experience in the post office.

In 1931 Wright published a short story, “Superstition,” in Abbott’s Monthly Magazine, a black journal. But unfortunately the journal fails before Wright collects any money from them. He was also given the opportunity to write through the Federal Writers’ Project. so that by the time he moved to New York City, he had written most of the novel Lawd Today, which was published posthumously in 1963.

Christmas comes and Richard works at the post office temporarily, where he again talks to his Irish friend about current events.

When his postal job ends he digs ditches at the Cook County Forest Preserves after which he gets employed in a medical research institute at one of the largest and wealthiest hospitals in Chicago, The Michael Reese Hospital. There he is responsible for caring for the animals used in medical research. He is immediately struck by the racial division set by the hospital authorities. Along with three other black men, Richard is restricted to the basement corridors so as not to allow them to mingle with the white workers. He cleans the operating rooms and the animal cages.

Richard is shocked at the extremely simple and brutalized mind of Bill, a boy of his age, with whom he, worked and who was usually sleepy or drunk.. Unlike the others, including two Brand and Cooke who had been employed at the institute for a longer period of time, Richard takes an interest in what the doctors are doing. One day, one of the doctors leaves a bottle of Nembutal – an anesthetic – out. Out of his usual curiosity, Richard opens the bottle and smells it. Brand pretends that the Nembutal is poisonous and scares Richard by telling him to run or he’ll fall dead.

Once, the authorities sent a young Jewish boy to time Richard as he cleans a room. After timing him, the boys calculate how long it will take Richard to clean all the rooms and five flights of steps. From then on, Richard begins to feel like a slave,always trying to work against time.

At the hospital, Brand and Cooke do nothing but feud with each other. One day, the two begin to argue over what year has the last coldest day in Chicago. Cooke pulls a long knife from his pocket and Brand seizes an ice pick to defend himself. A physical battle then ensues between them. Although no one is hurt, the animal cages topple over, letting dogs, mice, guinea pigs and rats run loose everywhere. The four black workers spend the rest of their lunch break trying to sort the animals out, randomly placing mice and rats in their cages, not knowing whether they were the cancerous rats or the ones injected with tuberculosis. None of the doctors notice anything wrong and neither of the workers tells the director about the disaster. Richard notes that because of the way in which the black workers are treated, they have learnt to form their own code of ethics, values, and loyalty.

Meanwhile, the depression grows worse and Richard is forced to move his family into a small dingy rented apartment. There one morning, his mother tells him there is no food for breakfast, and he must go to the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare to beg for bread. At the welfare station, Richard is embarrassed at first, but becomes aware of the bonding experience happening around him with: individuals sharing their experiences, thus unifying themselves. He leaves the relief station with a new kind of hope: the possibility that a new understanding of life could be given to those he had met there. Richard sheds some of his cynicism with a desire to understand the common black man.

Richard and his family are still plagued by hunger. With the depression in full swing, hunger plagues the entire community as well. But for Richard, the hunger again manifests itself in a hunger for knowledge, not just food. In the medical institute, Richard longs for the education that he sees other white young men receiving. But his questions are ignored with the doctor even scaring him off learning by telling him that his “brains might explode” should he “know too much.” Even in Chicago, he is still being denied access to education.

Richard also begins to sense that he is not alone in his loneliness and poverty. At the relief station, he begins to see that there is an entire society that has been rejected by society itself like him. There is strength in numbers, Richard begins to realize. This he realizes when the black workers are trying to fix the mess they have made in the medical institute; Richard realizes that within the black community – among his fellow workers – there existed a separate moral code.

One Thursday night, Richard is invited to join a group of white boys whom he had met at the post office to talk about politics, argue, eat and drink. Many of the boys have joined the Communist Party. Then one named Sol announces that one of his short stories is going to be published in a Communist journal. Sol, a member of the John Reed Club – a Communist literary organization -tries to convince Richard to attend one of their meetings. Richard is doubtful whether the Communist Party has any sincere interest in the black community, but finally attends one of their meetings to ease boredom. He is given a handful of Communist magazines and encouraged to participate in Left Front, one of their journals. Richard decides that he will try to humanize Communism to the common man through his writing, and composes a few verses that are accepted by some of the Communist publications.

Richard attends more of the meetings, and realizes that the club has factional disputes between its members. The disputes are between the writers (those mainly in charge of Left Front) and the painters.

Welcomed and encouraged by the almost entirely white membership, Wright begins to read and study New Masses and International Literature, the organ of the International League of Revolutionary Writers. He writes and submits the revolutionary poems “I Have Seen Black Hands.” “A Red Love Note” to Left Front the magazine of the Midwestern John Reed Clubs. Richard is then elected as executive secretary of the Chicago John Reed Club to satisfy both of the feuding factions. He tries to satisfy everybody on top of trying to keep Left Front published, though the Communist Party members saw the publication as useless. He organizes a successful lecture series which allows him to meet a variety of intellectuals. He goes on even to give a lecture at an open forum on “The Literature of the Negro.”

The power struggle within the John Reed Club led to the dissolution of the club’s leadership. Wright was assured of the support of the club’s party members if he was willing to join the party. Richard loses some of his cynicism and gains a little hope that the black community can unite to overcome their obstacles. His hope becomes manifested in his involvement with the Communist Party which he now joins having been impressed by their opposition to racial discrimination. He also got disabused of his expectation that life in the North could be lived with dignity. Richard believes that he can single-handedly unify the political and cultural needs of black society through his words. Richard is fully entrenched in the Communist Party, strengthened by the idea that he will be able to humanize the goals of the Communist movement by injecting their cause with black culture. He became a member of the Communist Party and published poetry and short stories in many of their magazines such as Left Front and Anvil.

One day, a young Jewish man who introduces himself as Comrade Young attends one of the Chicago meetings, stating that he has just moved from Detroit. Being without money, Young asks Richard if he can use the John Reed Club headquarters for lodging. Thinking that Young is sincere and loyal, Richard agrees. He wins the trust of the elder members. Young impresses the best painters in the club with his artwork and becomes admired by all. Richard tries to contact the Detroit chapter to ask for information of Young, but gets no reply. At one meeting, Young accuses Swann – one of the club’s best young artists- of being a Trotskyite traitor to the workers. Chaos and verbal battles ensue within the club.

Then Comrade Young disappears mysteriously. One afternoon, Richard and Comrade Grimm search the luggage that Young had left behind at the club and find a Detroit address, to which Richard writes and asks for him. A few days later, he receives a reply from a mental institution saying that Young had previously escaped but was apprehended and back in custody. All charges against Swann were then dropped and Richard, along with some other trusted members of the club, kept the information about Young a secret from the others.

Meanwhile, the Party decides to disband the John Reed Clubs. At the national meeting in New York, to discuss dissolving the clubs, Richard is unable to find a room to stay in because he is black.

Now a full-fledged member of the Communist Party, Richard attends a secret unit – the party’s basic form of organization – meeting and proposes his idea to humanize the Communist Party to the common black man, by his writing a book of biographical sketches for which. he interviews a member named Ross. Ross, however, has been charged with inciting to riot and is also accused later of being a traitor. Higher-ranking members, such as Ed Green and Buddy Nealson, begin to suspect Richard of the same crimes. Richard soon becomes disillusioned with the Party’s goals, and tries to sever all relations with it. He is invited back to witness Ross’s trial for his crimes, where Ross breaks down into tears and begs for the Party’s forgiveness. Richard is disgusted with the political organization and decides that the only way to reach the common man and evoke a reaction from society is through his writing. The members, despite Richard’s background, label him an “intellectual” because of his proper speech and dress. Richard also learns that the unit does not approve of him reading materials outside of Party literature, claiming that other literatures are bourgeois, and not for the masses. Richard begins to fear their militant ignorance. Richard had joined the party because he considered them as blind to race, but he is shocked to realize that they are biased against those favored by other socioeconomic factors, such as education. Wright, is astounded that they can label someone who has grown up in poverty as he has as bourgeois. Their ignorance toward Richard’s background serves to isolate him from the party and the Communist vision.

Richard begins to interview Ross, a communist who had been charged with “inciting to riot,” for his biographical book. But he begins to receive threats from party leaders with messages such as: “Intellectuals don’t fit well into the party, Wright.” One morning in Ross’s home, a black Communist named Ed Green arrives and begins to question him. Richard. Green is a member of the Party’s Central Committee – a man with power – and is suspicious of Richard’s work. As days pass, Ross begins to speak less and less to Richard. Soon afterwards, Ross is charged with anti-leadership tendencies.

Richard’ now begins to view their propaganda and tactics as embellished lies and impossible promises. He compares the Communist speaker and the black preacher which suggests that, like the church, Communism is nothing but blind faith. He blatantly questions the success of the Communist Party, asking if “the Negros could possibly cast off his fear and corruption and rise to the task.” By the word “task,” Wright means overcoming racial oppression and achieving unity.

Richard drops his idea of making a book of biographical sketches and instead, uses his material from Ross to write short stories. As he begins to find a literary voice and ideological affinity in the leftist political ferment of the 1930’s, he started writing and publishing widely. He wrote stories, articles and poems for the Daily Worker, New Masses, Midland Left, Anvil and Partisan Review. In April 1931 he published his first major story “Superstition” in Abbot’s Monthly. “Big Boy Leaves Home.” telling about the shocking end of the childhood of a young black boy was first published in The New Caravan and greeted as the best piece in the anthology in the mainstream newspapers and journals. He enjoys literary and social friendships with Bill Jordan, Abraham Chapman, Howard Nutty and Jane Newton.