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Developing an Argument About Richard Wright’s


Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Lived Underground” explores racism and its effects on self-esteem. Fred Daniels, a Black man wrongfully accused of murder, faces a terrifying day in police captivity in the novel. Wright shows how racism may affect a person’s self-image, behavior, and decisions through Fred’s story. This tale follows Fred Daniels, a Black man falsely convicted of murder who escapes through the city’s sewer system during the Jim Crow era. Racism’s impact on Daniels’ identity is his biggest challenge. In this article, I will claim that the novel shows how racism destroys Black identity and empowers the oppressor. I will argue that the novel shows how racism destroys black identity.

Racism and the Identity of Black People

The novel’s depiction of Jim Crow-era racism’s structural and institutional nature is stunning. The novel shows how Black people were oppressed at every level of society, from the police officers who brutalized Fred during his interrogation to the town mayor who cares more about his interests than justice for the accused (Shiraki, p.56). The novel exposes how entrenched and systematic racism may affect Black people’s identities and make them question their worth as humans.

Racism permeates “The Man Who Lived Underground,” affecting African Americans. The police who arrest Daniels perceive him as a threat from the start of the book. They assume he committed the crime because he is Black and lives in a predominantly Black community. Daniels’ police abuse illustrates Jim Crow-era bigotry. During this time, law enforcement and courts persecuted African Americans. During this time, many African Americans were discriminated against, like Daniels. Wright’s work highlights black people’s struggles, such as Daniels’ unfair treatment, the lack of opportunities, and the possibility of being victimized. This type of oppression creates feelings of inferiority and dehumanization, weakening black identity and supporting the oppressor.

The novel shows how racism affects behavior and choices. After fleeing police detention, Fred must live in hiding. He must live by using his wits and instincts as a Black guy in America. He becomes cynical and paranoid, requiring severe measures to protect himself. Racism can reduce one’s agency and individuality, forcing difficult survival decisions.

Racism and White Self-Esteem

The work also explores how racism can undermine white identity and power. The novel concentrates on Black people but also exposes how racism can affect white people who are engaged in oppression. Police officers that torture Fred are traumatized. Because of their insecurities and fears, they act violently and viciously. Racism diminishes Black people’s worthwhile increasing their oppressors’ influence. The book shows how racism shapes white identity, which believes it is superior to other racial identities. In the book, white police officers feel they are following the law but are driven by racial prejudice, which blinds them to their power abuse. They justify their violence by labeling African-Americans criminals and threats.

Wright’s novel shows how racism harms white and African-American identities. (Berg Elveli, p.145) The disproportionate presence of white police personnel only serves to further the stereotype that whites are inherently superior. This way of thinking gives them a sense of superiority, which justifies their racist behavior.

The novel also explores how racism affects powerholders’ identities. The mayor of the murder town is portrayed as a ruthless opportunist who will stop at nothing to protect his interests. Racism can cause those in power to put their needs ahead of those they are supposed to serve.

The novel also addresses Jim Crow-era police brutality. Police officers are portrayed as violent and corrupt in this story, using their authority to oppress Black characters. Racism can contribute to structural inequalities and make it difficult for victims to obtain justice. The Effortless Persistence of Black Identities

“The Man Who Lived Underground” shows how Black identity can survive prejudice. Daniels’ sewer trek is a metaphor for his self-discovery, where he confronts his identity and tyranny. Due to his experiences, he now sees his identity based on his humanity rather than his nationality or socioeconomic status. Wright shows how black people may overcome systemic racism to maintain their identity. Daniels’ survival shows Black resilience. Daniels’ escape into the sewers defies the repressive system.

The psychological impact that racism has on the identity of black people

“The Man Who Lived Underground” explores how racism affects black identity. The book explains how daily racism and other forms of bigotry make Black people feel less than human. This inferiority complex kills black identity and supports the oppressor. Racism can cause Black individuals mental suffering, fury, hatred, and hopelessness.

Wright’s novel’s protagonist, Daniels, is an analogy for this reality because he is treated racistly. When Daniels is wrongfully accused of murder, he is brutally beaten by police, confirming the stereotype that African Americans are more likely to commit violent crimes (Mutaz Tarik Shakir, p. 657). This encounter makes Daniels feel helpless and empowers the oppressive system that wants to dominate him.

Ada, Daniels’ wife, is another example of racism’s psychological influence on Black identity. Ada is from “Daniels.” Ada is brave and determined to support her husband through his struggles. However, bigotry and discrimination have shaped her identity. She feels humiliated and self-doubtful because she thinks Black people are inferior. Ada’s story shows how racism damages people and creates collective trauma that affects the entire Black community.

The novel shows how racism affects relationships. Fred’s experiences make him skeptical and apprehensive, making him hard to trust. This shows how racism can divide and harm relationships.

The Part Played by Institutionalized Racism in the Formation of Identity

“The Man Who Lived Underground” shows how institutional racism shapes self-identity. The dictatorial system aims to control people’s identities and lifestyles. Racism was rampant during the Jim Crow era, supporting white supremacy and the oppressor. Institutional racism. Denial of equal opportunities and prejudice against African Americans hurt their self-esteem and perpetuated the belief that they were lower class.

Wright shows how institutional racism affects black identity through Daniels. Daniels’ survival shows Black resilience. Daniels’ escape into the sewers defies the repressive system (Rafael, p.1822). Daniels’ experiences show how institutional racism shapes identity. Daniels’ sewer trek is a metaphor for his self-discovery, where he confronts his identity and tyranny. Due to his experiences, he now sees his identity as based on his humanity rather than his nationality or socioeconomic status.

The text also indicates that people can fight racism. Fred’s decision to escape police custody and live underground is an act of resistance against injustice. The work also shows Black relationships as a source of strength against racism. Community and group action can effectively challenge structural inequalities.


“The Man Who Lived Underground” is a powerful book about racism and its effects on self-esteem. Wright’s excellent tale captures the complexities of the human experience and shows how racism has affected people and society. The book shows how racism ruins African-American identity and empowers the oppressor. Against this, the book celebrates African-American perseverance and success against institutional bigotry. This book effectively reminds us of the need to overcome institutional racism and fight for racial justice. The story’s tragic ending inspires readers to notice society’s underlying inequities and work toward a more just and equitable world. Racism’s devastating consequences achieve this. The work also examines racism’s psychological and power effects. The novel shows Jim Crow-era societal inequalities through police brutality.

Works Cited

Berg Elveli, Kaja. Racial Identity in African American Literature: The Portrayal of Racial Identity in Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Native Son. 2020, Accessed 30 Apr. 2023.

Mutaz Tarik Shakir. “The Social Obstacles in Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945) Novel: Acritical Analysis.” Journal of STEPS for Humanities and Social Sciences (STEPS), 2022,

Rafael, Bruno. “‘I, Too, Am America’: Richard Wright’s Literary Pursuit of Justice.”, Oct. 2022,

Shiraki, M. “Narratives within Protest: Richard Wright’s Genres – ProQuest.”, 2023, Accessed 30 Apr. 2023.


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