Generation Gap: Uncle Tom and Uncle Tom's Children

Excerpts from Reviews of Wright's Book

            Lewis Gannett, New York Herald Tribune, 25 March 1938:

      "Uncle Tom's dead," says a new and more upright-standing generation of colored folk. "Uncle Tom's Children" is the title Richard Wright, a dark-skinned son of Natchez, Miss., gives to his stinging stories of that fighting generation.


            Harry Hansen, New York World-Telegram, 28 March 1938:

      The title comes from the expression of the Negroes indicating that they are no longer "Uncle Toms," that is, cringing servants.


            Zora Neale Hurston, Saturday Review of Literature, 2 April 1938:

      This is a book about hatreds. Mr. Wright serves notice by his title that he speaks of people in revolt, and his stories are so grim that the Dismal Swamp of race hatred must be where they live.


            Robert Van Gelder, New York Times Book Review, 3 April 1938:

      The second story, "Down by the Riverside," is an amazingly well written tragedy concerned with the plight of a Negro family caught by flooding river waters. A Negro who displays every admirable quality of heroism when he is trying to save others, fails through fright when he has a chance to save himself. An "Uncle Tom" at the crucial moment, he pays for his weakness with his life.


            Alan Calmer, New York Daily Worker, 4 April 1938:

      Morever, the book is laid in the locale of lynching and serfdom, and it deals with characters who are not meek Uncle Toms but a courageous, fighting lot, as the introductory sentences of the book point out.


            Marvel Cooke, New York Amsterdam News, 9 April 1938:

      The four "novellas" of life in the Deep South are a poignant cry for the immediate anti-lynching legislation and for Negro workers to unite with white workers for improvement of their conditions -- for Uncle Tom is dead.


            Countee Cullen, The African, April 1938:

      Uncle Tom's Children are still cabin-bound in many ways, but they are not satisfied; they are not chips off the old block, and barely recognizable as the offspring of their famous, but hardly admirable forebear. These children are after what belongs to men; they want happiness, better homes, better economic conditions. They still find the getting hard, but (here the blood is different) they are willing to fight. These Negroes are different; there is in them something of what must have been in the first African slaves, something of the fine, healthy anger that saw in death a brighter destiny than slavery.


            Fred T. Marsh, New York Herald Tribune Books, 8 May 1938:

      Wright calls the four tales novellas, and the title refers to the two phrases so commonly heard in educated Negro circles -- "He's an Uncle Tom" and "Uncle Tom is dead." The sentimentalized "good nigger" of proprietary Southerners and tutelary Northerners is not to be found here.


            Rabbi Herman Pollack, Memphis Hebrew Watchman, 26 May 1938:

      As is implied in the title, Wright deals with the life of the contemporary Negro, but departs from the usual presentation of the colored people in that he does not picture them as hopelessly indifferent to their plight but becoming increasingly concerned in their welfare and that of their fellow-men. Thus he explains that the Uncle Tom of a generation ago "which denoted the cringing type has been supplanted by a new word from another generation which says: 'Uncle Tom is dead.'"


            Agnes M. Reeve, Dayton Journal, 12 June 1938:

      If you have a strong stomach, one that relishes murder, lust, rape -- and more murder, then "Uncle Tom's Children" is for you. This collection of four long short stories won the prize for the best literary work done under the Federal Writers' Project and if it is a sample of what we may expect few readers will consider the public funds allocated to this project well spent. It is a far cry from Uncle Tom of Civil War days to "Uncle Tom's Children of today" -- a far cry from the kindly relations between the faithful Negro and his "white folks" to the Negro Communists and their ilk.


            William H. L. Tyus, Memphis Commercial Appeal:

      Written by a negro, as might be imagined, the book still does not rankle in the mind of the white reader. On the other hand, it provokes only his sympathy. And this is saving grace for a Southerner. There are certain factions in the North who would deliberately seize upon the book and hail its statements and implications just as did the Yankee in the day of Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," a book many believe helped to inflame the North against the South before the War Between the States.

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