Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and the African “Primal Outlook Upon Life”

Publication Title

Southern Quarterly

Publication Date

Fall 2001

Document Type



Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, African "primal outlook on life"


African Languages and Societies | American Literature | English Language and Literature


A comparative examination of the African “primal outlook on life” in Richard Wright's travelogues and Toni Morrison's novel "Beloved." The writer maintains that both authors investigate tradition-bound Western myths having to do with religion, politics, and legal discourses and thereby reconsider imperialistic and male-centered Western discourse. In their respective efforts to displace Western discourse, he contends, both Wright and Morrison attempt to reinstate, through protest, the African's primal outlook on life. Epitomized by matriarchal society and the black virgin, he argues, the communal African kinship explored by Wright is also evident in Morrison's novel, seen in Sethe's enduring relationship with Beloved. He concludes that just as Wright witnesses energetic maternal instinct on his journey into pagan Spain, so too does Sethe seize on the maternal love of child that is particularly innate in African culture.