Sewers and underground cities have become a topic of great fascination to me stimulated by my reading of Richard Wright's story. I find it helps to have a more precise sense of what the world he was creating might have looked like since Wright was so given to realistic, precise detail and description. He was greatly influenced by the great Russian writers, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy among them, and this fondness for detail may have come about through reading this prior work.
In any case, on to the interesting links that one will find in relation to issues of sewers and the underground, some of the best stuff is from National Geographic, which has done many shows on the topic. The following link is to a story about a wall of fat having formed in the London underground. A lot of people don't know what a danger it is to throw fat down the sink drain or the sewers but apparently it accumulates and blocks up everything. I guess it does the same thing to the pipes that it does to our bodies.
Sewers are extremely crucial to modern life and to concentrations of human population such as one will see in a city. Without an effective sewer (which New York didn't have until less than a hundred years ago), the result of concentration of populations in one place and the accumulation of their untreated waste and disease on a massive scale. Indeed some of the places in the world where particularly childhood disease remains at plague level it is because of the lack of adequate sanitation arrangements such as modern sewers. Whether Wright intended it deliberately, the choice of the sewers as this young man's adventure has the impact of maximizing how important of everything that happens to him.
Below find a link to a story about the problem of cholera in London in the 19th century when untreated sewage was still getting into the drinking water supply of the city. Can you imagine people not being willing to believe that combining waste and drinking water would cause death and disease but people continued to deny it even after it was known because the needed corrections would be expensive and time consuming.
The Man Who Lived Underground
I am a writer and a professor of English at the City College of New York, and the CUNY Graduate Center. My books include Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1979), Invisibility Blues (1990), Black Popular Culture (1992), and Dark Designs and Visual Culture (2005). I write cultural criticism frequently and am currently working on a project on creativity and feminism among the women in my family, some of which is posted on the Soul Pictures blog.