Thursday, May 6, 2021

Richard Wright’s newly restored novel is a story for today

The tragedy here ultimately does not bother Danielle, but how a single conversation with the police makes her deeply question her identity. For a time, Danielle is optimistic. He believes the ordeal is “a dream, but soon he will wake up and realize how real it was.” And then, once he enters the interrogation room, the confession seems inevitable. As I wanted the authorities to believe some of the evidence that Daniels provides, I expected brutal beating and forced the admission of such a crime.

There is some lie in every confession. Within the confines of a small room that feels a lot like a cell, feeling it even more with handcuffs, a person will say anything to return to a world that seems so distant. For Daniels, the beating of an hour signed an invented statement that he was very battered and even sleep deprived. He then goes to the police station for one last time in the arms of his wife, in the hospital, for a daring escape. One imagines him finding his way to his wife and his newborn child. But by some brutal Kafkaeske diversion, Danielle’s escape is in a manhole, where he retreats into the darkness and is almost washed away by the currents.

Underground, Daniel actually becomes invisible. She is no longer a husband. Never considers himself a father. The underground snatches away the markers of his identity as a prison sentence. And so, while the book no longer ties with the police and leads to arrests and beatings, Wright forces readers to ask what the cost of this freedom is.

A world opens up for Danielle; The canals and pathways under the earth make it inaccessible to buildings and shops. He withdraws money from a vault, extracts gems and diamonds from a jewelry store, picks up a gun from a sleeping security guard. But these things mean little to him. He uses the currency to paper the walls of his chosen cell in the sewer. Jewelry to make yourself happy. Deprivation no longer gave him the importance of material wealth. And yet, deprivation has also made him, for a time, feel less morally guilty for what he does. When he takes a laborer’s sandwich, he feels that there is no qualms about it. And when others fall for his theft, he shakes her.

Yet when a Baptist singer’s soul is “happy, happy, happy, happy, oh, so glad / I got Jesus in my soul” when one reaches Daniels through a crack in the wall, he is upset. He imagines that “their search for a happiness they could never find makes them feel that they have done a very wrong thing that they cannot remember or understand.” They sing as if they are “pleading.” Guilty, Sensually in their despair.

My grandmother has been singing in churches all her life, and through all the small and big troubles of her children and grandparents, she never blames us, not as guilty as what Danielle means, believing that That you are condemned, afflicted and qualified. But perhaps it is all right. This country pushes some of us to always imagine ourselves through the lens of those who hate us, and when we do, there is no escape, even underground .

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