** Homework Questions **
Richard Wright (1908-1960)
"The Man Who Lived Underground"
Things To Consider:
- Light/Dark Imagery
- Rat Imagery
- Water Imagery
- Guilt vs. Innocence
- Role of the Church
- Plato's Allegory of the Cave
- Aristotle's Poetics
- Story of Jesus
- Dante, Inferno
- Dostoevsky, Notes from Umderground
- Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
"The Man Who Lived Underground" (1944)
(See Group Questions )
- Why does the protagonist have to hide from the police?
- Explain the protagonist's reaction to the dead
baby. Why does he react this way?
- Why does he describe himself as "sightless, defenseless"
when "confronted"by the light?
- Explain his reaction to the movie audience: "These
people were laughing at their lives, he thought with
amusement. They were shouting and yelling at the
animated shadows of themselves. . . . These people were
children, sleeping in their living, awake in their dying"
- Why does the protagonist walk past the usher "as though
he were a ghost"(329)? In what ways is he a
- Explain the dream of the water, naked woman, and naked
- Why is the protagonist upset to see someone else stealing
the money he was planning to steal? How does he
distinguish himself from this other "thief"?
- Again, why does he almost laugh to see the watchman
tortured, as he has been, by the same cops, for a crime he has
not committed? Why is he convinced the watchman is
- Why does he seek out the specific cops who have beaten
- Why do the cops shoot him? Explain Lawson's
Other Discussion Questions:
- Where is the church that the protagonist encounters?
- Explain his reaction to their singing. Why does he
react this way?
- Explain: "This was a new kind of living for him"
- Why has he signed a false confession? To what does he
- Explain: "Now he had a reason for staying here
underground" (332). Doesn't he already have one?
- Why is he blinded by the light again?
- Shouldn't the white couple be more suspicious about
seeing a "strange" black man at Nick's Fruit and Meats?
- In describing the contents of his bag at this
point--the typewriter, money, cleaver, and radio--why does he
say, "They were the toys of the men who lived in the dead
world of sunshine and rain he had left. The world that had
condemned him, branded him guilty" (336)? What does this
- Why does he type his name the way he does? Is there
any significance to the fact that he uses all lower case
- He pretends to fire the gun: "'Boom!' he whispered
fiercely. .. . That's just how they do it in the movies,
he said" (337). Who are "they"?
- He broods over these images: diamonds, rings, watches,
money, church singing, people yelling in the movie, dead baby,
nude (dead) man and the narrator says, "He saw these items
hovering before his eyes and felt that some dim meaning linked
them together, that some magical relationship made them kin"
(337). Explain what this "magical relationship" is.
- Again, "the sudden illumination blinded him" (338).
Why is he still susceptible to light in this way? Why is
he more comfortable in darkness?
- Why can't he remember his name?
- He says, "'Yes, I'll have the contracts ready tomorrow'"
and laughs. "That's just the way they talk, he said"
(338). Again, who are "they"? What is he doing?
- Why does he wallpaper "his" cave with the money and
decorate it the way he does?
- Explain: "There was no time for him now" (339).
- Explain: "If the world as men had made it was
right, then anything else was right, any act a man took to
satisfy himself, murder, theft, torture"(339).
- What historical events are described on the radio?
How are they significant to the story?
- Explain the two dreams he has here.
- Describe his sensations. Is he becoming more
- Why does he find it "laughable" that a boy was getting
hit for stealing the radio that Daniels has actually stolen?
- Why does the watchman kill himself? What do the
cops think the reason is?
- Does Daniels still think it's funny? Explain.
- Why does he "emerge"?
- Why does he find his own appearance so funny?
- Why won't they let him in the church?
- Explain: "He was the statement, and since it was
all so clear to him, surely he would be able to make it clear
to others" (345). What is "it"?
- How do the cops react to him? Why?
- Why does he need to tell them every detail?
- Explain: "The sun of the underground was fleeing
and the terrible darkness of the day stood before him" (348).
- What makes the cops "interested" in what Daniels has to
- Explain: "I'm guilty. . . . I'll show you
everything in the underground. I laughed and laughed" (349).
- Why do they agree to go with him?
- Do they believe what he says?
- Do you think you would?
"Group Questions" for "The Man Who Lived
- How does the version of the text published here compare
to the original version?
- Explain the significance of the reversal of images of
light and darkness. Look especially at pages 328, 332, 338,
340, 343, and 348.
- Explain the symbolism of the dreams Daniels has.
- Explain the way he decorates his cave.
- Explain the significance of the rat imagery. To
what degree is Daniels himself portrayed as a rat-like
- Explain Daniels's concept of universal guilt that emerges
on page 341.
- Does Daniels go insane? Explain.
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