It would have been easy to write a book about a black man unjustly accused. Wright wrote the hard one. In Chicago of the 1930’s, where Bigger Thomas has found work as a chauffeur, he murders a young white woman, the only child of the wealthy family who has just hired him. Though the killing is accidental, it becomes a kind of retroactive act of will. It leads Thomas to an inquiry into his own injuries and humiliations at the hands of a sometimes literally bloodthirsty white society. There are passages of standard social preachment in this book, but Wright brings Bigger’s situation into the most uncomfortable places of the American racial standoff. That’s exactly where it had to go.