Richard’s father is only very briefly presented in the book, but the effect of his personality is strong. Richard never feels close to him; he is only frightened by him. At first, in Memphis, his sleeping habits interfere with the boys’ games and his temper is irrational. Later on, when Richard’s mother tries to get some support from him and brings along the boy to remind him of his responsibilities, he is openly living with another woman.
The scene that takes place affects Richard not so much because of the embarrassment it causes him and his mother, but rather because his father and the strange woman seem to share a secret. His father is clearly more at ease with his new woman than he ever was with Richard’s mother. They have a laughing, sensuous relationship which mocks all the suffering which Richard and his mother must endure.
Years later, when Richard meets his father again, it is in Mississippi and the old man is a sharecropper. He now represents much more than a personal memory to Richard. He represents a whole generation of black people who were driven off the land into the cities, where they were unable to cope for themselves, who were still the offsprings of slavery, and who had no more understanding of themselves historically or culturally than children. Richard is able to see his father in this clear light because he knows him so little. He can make him into a symbol of all that slavery has done to his people without having an emotional involvement interfere with his point of view. Nathaniel Wright is a victim of white tradition and white convention. His manhood can express itself in only the most elemental terms through sexual passion, through physical labor because any other avenue for self-expression and growth has been cut off from him. Incapable of having emotional bonds with his wife and children, he makes his roots in what is temporary, immediate satisfaction. Richard cannot hold a grudge against him for these attitudes because they are beyond his control. He is only what society has made him.