Welcome to Francis Academic Press

Academic Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences, 2021, 4(2); doi: 10.25236/AJHSS.2021.040212.

A Spatial Analysis of the Empowerment in Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Lived Underground”


Xinwen Huang

Corresponding Author:
Xinwen Huang

School of Foreign Studies, Minzu University of China, Beijing 100081, China


Published in 1942, Richard Wright’s short story “The Man Who Lived Underground” is one of the outstanding northern urban naturalist novels written by African American writers in the first half of the 20th century. The protagonist Fred Daniels, a black young man who fell victim at the police’s misjudgement and maltreatment, seeks safety and protest in the underground sewer system of Chicago. The city sewer then becomes a symbolic space for power and empowerment, which lead to Daniels’ private observation and action in order to complete his empowerment as a neglected African American citizen in Chicago in the 1930s. In the lens of British scholar Mike Crang’s theory of cultural geography, the sewer in “The Man Who Lived Underground” can be interpreted as a symbol for personal, social, and universal power. This special underground space empowers Daniels in his knowledge and judgements, as well as exerts influence on his behaviour and goals, where it becomes an analogy of the complex relations between rationality and irrationality as opposed to the arbitrary ones established by the thinking of modern world.


Richard Wright, “The Man Who Lived Underground”, African American literature, cultural geography, space and power

Cite This Paper

Xinwen Huang. A Spatial Analysis of the Empowerment in Richard Wright's "The Man Who Lived Underground". Academic Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences (2021) Vol. 4, Issue 2: 51-55. https://doi.org/10.25236/AJHSS.2021.040212.


[1] L. Zhang (2015). Literary Tradition and Its Surpass of the Urban ‘Underground Men’ in African American Literature—Characterisation and Metaphor of the “Underground Men” in Devil in a Blue Dress. Foreign Language and Literature Research, vol. 01, no. 4, p.38-42.

[2] M. Crang (2003). Cultural Geography. Trans. Yang Shuhua & Song Huimin. Nanjing University Press, p.63.

[3] M. Crang and T. Nigel, ed. (2000). Thinking Space. Routledge, p.7, 9, 2. 

[4] R. Wright (1997). “The Man Who Lived Underground”. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. H. L. Gates and N. Y. McKay. W.W. Norton & Company, p.1415, 1414, 1417, 1429, 1434, 1418-9, 1435, 1446. 

[5] R. Ellison (1952). Invisible Man. Random House, “Prologue”.

[6] Names and Identity, Holocaust and Human Behavior. Retrieved 25 Nov 2020. https://www.facinghistory.org/holocaust-and-human-behavior/chapter-1/names-and-identity

[7] M. Fabre (2019). Richard Wright: The Man Who Lived Underground. Studies in the Novel, vol. 51, no. 1, p.10-22.