An Essay on African American Literature

The time from 1940 to 1960 is considered to be the period of Modernism, Naturalism and Realism in African American literature. The traits of these styles were identical with the same literature styles of other nations and countries. While modernism experiments with different styles in literature, naturalism emphasizes and showcases the most rude, real and unpleasant details of the day to day life. Among the three above-mentioned styles, realism describes the life of an average person as it is.  

It should be noticed that the literature of Modernism, Naturalism and Realism was different from Harlem’s Renaissance literature. While the latter was aiming at increasing the awareness in regards to the black ethnicity and the formation of African American unity, the literature of Modernism, Naturalism and Realism had nothing to do with this kind of ideology. That literature depicted the real life of African American people and its main goal was rather to document than to evoke feeling of justice and unity.

One of the most remarkable authors of this period was Richard Wright.  Some of his works had been published in the United States of America before he left to spend the rest of his life in Paris. While his style of writing still remains the subject of debates, we can state without controversy that his creative works had spectacular impact on future works of African American writers. For example, his novel A man who lived underground influenced Ralph Ellison’s famous piece of writing The invisible man.

Richard Wright did not receive any special training in writing and was a self-educated person. His realism writing style was greatly influenced by Theodore Dreiser, in particular by Dreiser’s An American tragedy. The characters of Richard Wright are simple people – men and woman who live ordinary lives, without exaggerations appropriate for other literature styles. It’s quite understandable why Wright chose this style, because his early years gave him that impulse as his childhood was unhappy and poor.

Nevertheless, critics, who analyzed Wright’s works, have identified the elements of modernism and allusions on famous Edgar Allan Poe. The elements of modernism can be especially felt in Wright’s system of metaphors. Although modernistic edge of Wright’s works are still in question, and many skeptics say that his creative works are devoid of modernism, Wright’s well-known quote shows his modernistic capabilities, «The artist must bow to the monster of his own imagination». It’s plain to see that this quote has connotations with Gothic literature.

As for the newest editions of Richard Wright’s creative works, it should be mentioned that they include some elements of naturalism. These naturalistic elements were cut from previous editions for the reason of the extremities of horror and violence. In his novel A Native Son, Wright describes his thoughts on the theme of violence, stating that it is a necessity for the oppressed people. He says that for such people violence is not a conscious decision, but rather an unconscious reaction to continuous denials of their individuality. 

Thus, it becomes clear that Richard Wright’s writing style is too multifaceted to put a label of one of three styles on it. Without controversy, his works are excellent instances of 1940-1960 period of African American literature.


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