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The Man Who Lived Underground

The Man who lived Underground ( A summary and analysis of Richard Wright’s Story)


A fugitive from law discovers a second life in the underground sewers. He has been accused of murder and is running from an unfair society. Having decided to escape the law, he finds recluse inside the sewers. Richard Wright’s work presents how it feels being ostracized and chased by the society. Far from the chaos in the society, the protagonist finds solace in the sewers that run under the city. Far from social bondage, the protagonist discovers a new life inside the sewers. While living underground, he undertakes a journey in self discovery that allows him to see things in a new light. The restrictions of the above world do not apply here. The sewers despite being dirty represent a safe haven and society or the city represents a prison house and captivity. The protagonist Fred Daniels hunted by law, finds the sewers safer.  Daniels is a man of color and is being chased by the law for a murder he is falsely accused of. Racism, discrimination and the resulting chaos and frustration are important themes in Wright’s work.


Far from the racial disparities and social divisions, life inside the sewers takes the form of an enlightening journey for Daniels. While watching the society from the outside, Daniels develops both judgement and maturity. He leads a secluded life stranded inside the sewers. Like Robinson Crusoe he is living on an island he solely inhabits. The only difference is that he can still watch the city from small chinks and does not long to get back to it. He is watching the world discovering new facts about it and remains undiscovered . Now, far from the upper-world, he lives away from its prejudices. The viciousness of the above world is presented before his eyes in new ways which awakens the philosopher in him. Wright has dealt with several issues in the novella but particularly it is racism he is trying to strike at. Seen from Daniels’ eyes the society looks comic and meaningless. Daniels had not place to hide when he escaped , but the underground world. His being shot to death at the end of the novella brings the readers back to the society face to face with its infernal divisions.


In his underground life, Daniels has several adventures. He steals from stores and others are punished. He is invisible and to he enjoys his newfound camouflage. Being a ghost excites him. Daniels has found a home in a cave in the underground depths. While exploring the underground depths, he watches an undertaker embalming corpses. From there he brings back a light bulb and wire to light his cave. He visits several places including a church, a theater and a radio shop. From there, he brings back the radio expecting to hear music. However, it provides him with news of war and destruction going on in the above world.  Again he visits a jewellery store and a  butcher’s shop and steals from there. A boy is punished for the radio Daniels stole and the watchman for the jewellery. The watchman does not confess and hangs himself. Through all these events, Daniels is transformed and gets back to the policemen to tell of his experiences and the truth, asking them to visit his cave. The police has found the real culprit and shoots him to death. Underground life has changed Daniels but above it is still the same brutal world. It is just as he left it. Innocence and guilt are other important themes, the novella deals with. Daniels is being weighed down with guilt  when he first enters the sewers. However, by the time he decides to get back to the people, his guilt has melted. Richard Wright has showed in his black protagonist that liberation for him lay only in his death. Racism was a anathema that left only with life.