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“A Long Black Song” by Richard Wright Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Aug 24th, 2020

African Americans living in the United States have long suffered from being mistreated by white people. It was especially acute before the abolition of slavery. Even once it was abolished, the problem remained and was highlighted in numerous works of African-American writers, who struggled for reaching racial equality by narrating of the difficult lives of their brothers and sisters. In his Long Black Song, one of the short stories published in Uncle Tom’s Children, Richard Wright raises several significant issues regarding the differences between the blacks and the whites proving that the interracial gap in the society was tremendous, and nothing was done to overcome it.

What is first traced in the short story is the description of the gap in the working conditions of black and white people. It was determined by history that the blacks, for the most part, were working in the fields, and the whites were either their masters or involved in other spheres of economy. In this case, we see Silas, who has his small farm built on the land he managed to buy by himself specializing in growing cotton. He is forced to become a traveling salesman to keep his family. On the other hand, we see a white man who is also a traveling salesman, but he sells clocks made into gramophones. What is shown is that African Americans work harder to make their living because they should at first grow what they sell while white people could afford to earn bread by reselling. Another detail highlighting the gap in the incomes of the blacks and the whites is the fact that Silas uses a wagon for transporting crops while the white man has a car.

This trend in inequality can be related to what is known as economic freedom. It is strengthened by discrimination because black people almost always occupy lower positions and have less access to the distribution of income. So, when it comes to making the profit and gaining economic success white people are more likely to be wealthier because they have more freedoms and are less prejudiced if compared to African Americans (Hoover, Compton, and Giedeman 591). This challenge was especially acute in the times described in Wright’s short story.

Another issue raised by the author of this essay is the difference in the level of education between the whites and the blacks. Even though the white man is involved in selling goods, it is his seasonal occupation because he attends school and studies sciences during winters. What we see in the story is the fact that a black woman does not even know what the word ‘science’ stands for acknowledging, “Naw, Ah guess Ah wouldn’t [understand]” (Wright 134) what this word means when the white man started explaining what he is learning. Even though it was a woman the white was speaking to, if her husband were at home, the outcome of the conversation about sciences would have been the same because African Americans especially those practicing agriculture were, for the most part, illiterate and had limited or no access to education at all. Based on discrimination and together with the inequality in access to income distribution, it leads to widening achievement gap that represents itself not only in the accessibility of education and grades but also the overall level of general knowledge, i.e. educational outcomes (Hartney and Flavin 23).

Another representation of the educational outcomes gap is seen every time we read the words of the black characters mentioned in the short story whether it is Sarah or Silas. Their language is hard to understand and it has numerous mistakes. It might have been the author’s trick to draw attention to the fact that, first, African American population, for the most part, was illiterate, and, second, black people in the times described by Wright were prohibited to speak their native languages and required to speak the common language, i.e. English. Even though slavery was abolished, the prohibition against using the black’s native languages in their everyday life remained on the subconscious level.

Furthermore, Wright raises the issue of marital fidelity. It is portrayed in two cases. First, the subject of commitment to the relationship is highlighted when we see the black woman recollecting memories of Tom, a black man with whom Sarah had a love story when she was younger. She thought of the life she could have had with Tom and what it would have been like if her daughter was from Tom, not her husband. She claimed that it was out of loneliness because Silas left her. After all, he was forced to go sell the cotton they grew (Wright 127-128), but this belief could not justify her because cheating starts with thoughts, and then is transmitted to actions.

Another instance of violating the vow of fidelity is the situation with the white man who came to sell a clock. It is closely related to the problem of women’s rights. There was an instance of rape, but there is always a choice – to give up or fight. Sarah chose to give up and be raped by the white man. She lied there and thought that it was a white man and she could not even try to resist him, but, instead, should let him own her (Wright 136). This fear to resist a white man and remain faithful to one’s husband has its roots in the relations between black slaves and their owners. It was a common practice for white slave owners to have sexual affairs with their black slaves, who did not have the right to resist them or tell somebody else about this experience.

It derives from the fact of considering the blacks as objects which could be treated the way the whites wanted and forced to obey them. What is also mentioned in this situation is the problem of women’s rights, precisely the matter of disrespecting them because women, especially when they were black, were treated like things. The author again draws attention to this issue when Silas whipped Sarah and sent her out of their home to sleep in the barn because he thought that she lied to him about the white man and that she had laid with that man (Wright 145). This scene portrays problems of both marital fidelity and women’s rights because even though Sarah was unfaithful, she was harshly whipped. So, there are instances of rape and home violence.

Finally, what Wright draws attention to in his story is the fact that even though Silas and Sarah were free, the legislative gap between the whites and the blacks was gigantic. When Silas whipped the white man for raping Sarah, his blow was hard enough to strike the white to the ground killing him. Silas might have avoided responsibility for his deed, but the only problem was that there was another white man in a car, and he had a gun. What we later see is the scene of the cruel murder of the black man. The whites have chosen to burn the house in which the family of African Americans lived. They did it shouting, “Yuh think yure white now, nigger?” (Wright 155) pointing to the fact that even though Silas was free and had his farm, he would never be treated the same way white people treat each other, he would never have the right to a fair trial, and the only thing he has got the right to is being killed in his house in full view of his family.

What can be said as the conclusion is that this short story written by the African-American writer portrays the everyday life and problems of the blacks? Even though it was written long ago and there were numerous steps made towards racial equality and social justice, some things are still applicable in today’s society. For example, the education and income gaps between the whites and the blacks are still tremendous and the problem of discrimination is still acute. Yes, African Americans have got the right to a fair trial. Yes, they have access to education and more economic and social freedoms than they used to have. But no, racial equality is not here yet.

Works Cited

Hartney, Michael, and Patrick Flavin. “The Political Foundations of the Black-White Education Achievement Gap.” American Politics Research 42.1 (2014): 3-33. Print.

Hoover, Gary, Ryan A. Compton and Daniel C. Giedeman. “The Impact of Economic Freedom on the Black/White Income Gap.” American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings 105.5 (2015): 587-592. Print.

Wright, Richard. Long Black Song. n.d. PDF File. Web.

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