Summary and Analysis Chapter 14

It is now only a matter of money and opportunity before Richard will go North. These problems are resolved because he has learned how to play the role which his family and white people expect of him. He can play it in spite of the tension and deception it involves, now that he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. His people are no more aware of his inner life than are the white folks he works with. And so, always isolated and secretive, he makes his escape under a completely false pretext.

The voice of the boy Richard and the man Richard Wright have now merged into one. In flight he feels no elation or promise, but only the tension and fear he has grown accustomed to living with. He is not going toward something so much as away from something else. His whole life so far has been one of upheaval, travel, and flight, so this experience in itself is far from new to him.

Yet, as he moves, he is at least conscious of what the motive means. This is the difference, and the only one, between his journey now and all the ones that came before. He knows what it means to be leaving the South, to be American, to be black, to be a writer. He is nobody’s victim, not even his own, as long as he can maintain this consciousness. It is the only freedom he knows and it began with that first overwhelming revelation he had at his mother’s bedside: the “conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering.” Henry James has said that consciousness is the only thing left to a man in the end. And this is Wright’s conclusion now; to be conscious of meaninglessness is preferable to faking a meaning that is, it is the only possible state of mind for him.

The terrible price of this awareness is that Wright knows that he is what he is forever. And he will always be a southern product, perhaps transplanted in another climate, perhaps to blossom there away from home, but always southern. It is this past which he must struggle to understand and by understanding, forgive, as he lives in the North and elsewhere. He has some faith that this will happen, and, when it does, he will at least feel that those people who have done everything in their power to destroy him will, by his survival, have to change their ways. This is his revenge to take the whole of himself, and so much of himself is the South, away; to do more than endure; to flourish as an individual.

He has won a victory over the cruelty of humanity just by leaving the place of his birth. By his voluntary release, he has proved the whole system to be a fraud and a failure. This might, for some men, be sufficient cause to rejoice. But it takes the wisdom of Richard Wright to find no pleasure in victory. Instead he maintains, to the very end, his austere and poetic response to the whole of humanity.