Skip to Content
Search Icon
Issue 12 – Assumption 2022


Another Sort of Learning

On education.


At the end of Black Boy, Richard Wright prepares to board a northbound train to Chicago and asks himself what made it possible for him to escape poverty and the segregated South. It is, he speculates, the “vague glimpses of life’s possibilities” that he found in literature. The emotional impact of stories cast an “unseen light” which he groped for without knowing what he would find. He writes of his days asking for forbidden library books under a white man’s name: “I hungered for books, new ways of looking and seeing. It was not a matter of believing or disbelieving what I read, but of feeling something new, of being affected by something that made the world different.”

Wright’s experience of literature fits into what George Steiner, using a phrase of Matthew Arnold, called “the criticism of life.” Literature shows us that things could be otherwise. Even the most luxurious daily routine, one of comfort, security, and implicit power, can be its own kind of prison. Yet any reader can inhabit any mind, and any world as that mind sees it. Our imagination provides not only distraction, fruitless occupation, but concrete possibilities, ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. Why, after all, does our imagination coalesce around characters? Our fantasies uncover real possibilities and so become aspirations, negative and positive. As the engine of aspiration, imagination is the soil from which we grow, develop, and flourish. We grow, develop, and flourish as members of a human community, a community outside of conventional space and time, built on words.

You must or subscribe to read the rest of the article.

About the author

Zena Hitz