Bright And Morning Star by Richard Wright, 1938
The magic trick:
Using the limited omniscient narrator to reflect Aunt Sue’s lack of control and power
Stories this breathtakingly great make my blog’s concept of picking but one magic trick per story seem pretty stupid. “Bright And Morning Star” is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. And much of that power derives from the lack of power Aunt Sue wields. She can’t take control of her own life in any way, struggling against both the racism of her southern surroundings and the choices her own son makes. She’s left alone at home with nothing to do but wait and hope.
Wright illustrates this brilliantly by using a limited omniscient narrator. The reader is confined to the house with Aunt Sue, stuck nervously waiting for information from afar. The plot moves through her thoughts and through her interactions with the various visitors to her home. She finally leaves the house and takes action at the end of the story. And while the closing scene is brutal, it still feels like a victory of sorts because finally, Aunt Sue has determined the outcome.
It is important to note, too, that aligning the reader with Aunt Sue’s point of view was especially important given the time period in which this story was written. The southern black point of view was terribly underrepresented then (and now). To give Aunt Sue a voice at all was valuable. To do so with such literary brilliance and power was genius. And that’s quite a trick on Wright’s part.
She stood by the ironing board, her hands folded loosely over her stomach, watching Reva pull off her watterclogged shoes. She was feeling that Johnny-Boy was already lost to her; she was feeling the pain that would come when she knew it for certain; and she was feeling that she would have to be brave and bear it. She was like a person caught in a swift current of water and knew where the water was sweeping her and did not want to go on but had to go on to the end.
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