Black Boy by Richard Wright
My class has been reading the book, Black Boy, by Richard Wright for about two months now. This book has quite some topics which can capture reader’s attention, and engage in pondering of this book. Some topics can go from childhood dilemmas, to even the way someone learns as he progresses in life. These topics intrigue the reader, bringing them into the story by times or books relating to what goes on in this story. Many people often think of this book as a typical story about someone we should think about. I thought of that at first, but it turns out that by using smart ways of writing, the author conveys a story of a child’s upbringing to his learning experiences and more. I believe that this book has many connections to the world, other books, and personal experiences, which helps captivate readers even more. A question is brought up, what does the author want to show to his readers through this book?
The plot and theme in Black Boy reminds me of other books. No Promises in the Wind, by Irene Hunt was actually set in the same time period as Black Boy, except that the main characters were white. Two young boys run away from home on a pursuit for a happier life, but end up in worse situations. Thriving by the help of other people, these two boys make it out of the story. Richard, like these two boys, struggled hard to thrive in this society, perhaps having it much harder since he was of colored skin. They had to go through hunger, and reliance of others to survive, in this case, Richard relied on learning and gaining more knowledge as he went through in life. Another book, Night, by Elie Weisel, was quite different, but the discrimination and the pain it delivered to the discriminated definitely relates to Black Boy. Discrimination was one of the more impacted reasons of him fearing white people. In Night’s case, the main character had a resentment towards the Nazis, who threatened to have a successful genocide during those times.
This book is particularly preoccupied with the relationship between the other books in that even through childhood, these people suffered so much. The amount of suffering is varied, but it all leads to the problems that occurred in society, leading to people having desperate lives, searching for a haven they can go to in those dark times. These books, one fictional, while the others partially, or almost not fictional, all described the times they were in as devastating. These are very useful writings for people today, teaching them many things, whether it is not giving up or even to appreciate the lives they have now. Issues in society were what brought these people in bad situations, and is useful in our society now, for people to understand and learn factors of what happened in the past as well as learning about what the writer is trying to convey.
To show that these issues are important in Black Boy, let’s take a closer look first at a selection from the beginning of the book. What is this book trying to do? What kind of reader does it want? Well, from what I have read, I am guessing that this book tries to show that it is better to learn from experiences and as you go on your way through life, try learning and gaining access to knowledge. Readers who can understand and go more in depth in a book while reading would be most wanted. This book has many messages that without pondering, would remain hidden. Richard Wright learned by experience, and perhaps wants to show to us readers, that he believes that it is a strong and efficient way of learning.
On page 7, there is one of these passages where Richard is nearly beaten to death because of a mistake on his part in which he committed. This gets him to learn about his wrongdoings when being penalized by his mother. “‘You almost scared us to death,” my mother muttered as she stripped the leaves from a tree limb to prepare it for my back. I was lashed so hard and so long that I lost consciousness. I was beaten out of my senses and later I found myself in bed, screaming, determined to run away, tussling with my mother and father who were trying to keep me still. I was lost in a fog of fear. A doctor was called-I was afterwards told-and he ordered that I be kept abed, that I be quiet, that my very life depended on it. My body seemed on fire and I could not sleep... But for a long time I was chastened whenever I remembered that my mother had come close to killing me.” What Wright gives us here is an example of the character’s punishments when dong something wrong. Richard learns through this, giving him more knowledge as an event has passed. So one thing this means to the reader is that his mother is extremely abusive and perhaps doesn’t care for her child. This is just a surface type of inspection of the book. His mother did care about him. and it was to make him learn, what he did was wrong. His mother is a key factor to his learning experiences, even in punishment. The author uses visualization in a way for readers’ perception of what Richard was going through. They can visualize his pain and suffering, while understanding at the same time that he is learning throughout all this, therefore visualization is being used in this part of the story.
In the following scene, Richard commits a horrid action. He murders a kitten, due to a dispute between him and his father. Take a look at this passage on page 12:
“What in God’s name have you done?” she asked. “The kitten was making noise and Papa said to kill it,” I explained. “You little Fool!” she said. “You’re father’s going to beat you for this!” “But he told me to kill it,” I said. “You shut your mouth!” She grabbed my hand and dragged me to my father’s bedside... I had my first triumph over my father. I had made him believe that I had taken his words literally. He could not punish me now without risking his authority... But my mother, being more imaginative, retaliated with an assault upon my sensibilities that crushed me with the moral horror involving in taking a life. All that afternoon she directed toward me calculated words that spawned in my mind a horde of invisible demons bent upon vengeance for what I had done...
Why is this scene important? Richard kills a kitten due to a little argument, and he uses the life of a living thing to get back at his father. This was an unnecessary and stupid action, but Richard later pays for it by burying it and having constant flashes of the kitten. This scene is important. Richard was young, therefore not knowing that what he had done was horrible mistreatment. For him, winning an argument with his father was more important, in which he did succeed. However, his mother was another obstacle. This time, he fails and submits to her power over him. His mother was who he feared most during those times, therefore making him weak to her. His mother was smart with her punishments, they infiltrated Richard’s conscious, making him learn and understand, what he did would not be tolerated when his mother was around.
Next, take a look at what happens on page 174 where Richard is in a situation where he is the valedictorian of his school, preparing a speech for an audience consisting of not only colored people, but white people as well. Now, this was not punishment or anything, but this was an example of Richard’s pride and reasoning during his life. This also goes with discrimination and partial hardship he had to go through, nothing he does being enough.
The school term ended. I was selected as valedictorian of my class and assigned to write a paper to be delivered at one of the public auditoriums. One morning the principal summoned me to his office... “Listen, boy, you’re going to be speak to both white and colored people that night. What can you alone think of saying to them? You have no experience...”
Now, this is a short excerpt from the book, but it has a lot of meaning in my opinion. The principal tried to goad Richard into doing things the way the principal wanted them to be. This made Richard’s work seem too insufficient, and brings a sort of hatred towards white people, even more. If they cannot except who he is alone, then how can he present himself? This may not seem like a learning experience to other people, but I think it is. I think it adds fuel to the fire, the fire being his hatred towards white people, mainly because of the principal putting his work down as if it is not good enough. Richard did not want to follow the terms the white people wanted the black people to follow, but to have his own, bringing in a sense of lack of freedom, leading to situations where he begins to fear white people in so many ways.
Let’s take a look at both of these scenes, and what they have to say about my question: What does the author try to convey using this book to his readers? These two passages provides some answers for my question, the author wanted to show us that, through hardship, vital learning is needed. By dealing with problems society dispatches to Richard, he learned and gained more knowledge. I believe that Wright is trying to show us that society is hard and without learning through experiences, we would not have proper learning established in our lives.
There is a sense of negative impacts towards Richard in his earlier years of life that arises from these first two little vignettes. I understand that as Richard went through these events, he learned and hated, in a sense. When I first read these scenes, I thought of them as just typical problems a black person had to deal with during those times. I also thought that it just brought a deep sense of hatred from Richard towards the individuals who inflicted these troubles. This may also be true, but there is also learning involved. Experiences which he would not forget in his later years, giving him more thought in regards to situations like those. I believe that a reader who just reads the book when needed to do so, or just to read would just not think about it at all, which was sort of like me. There is a lot of thinking which is required to find the messages delivered by the reader in this book.
The sense of visualization and a way to get a reader to think, suggested already by these two scenes where Richard goes through some troubling times, while learning and accumulating resentment. We see this them again on page 7, and this passage was used previously before, but not as a scene in providing an explanation to my question. Richard is beaten half to death by his mother after committing some sort of wrongdoing. Now, this helps Richard understand that he cannot get away with everything. This event also induces fear towards his mother, and perhaps resentment as well.
Richard’s first punishment in this book is because of something he has done. Most of his punishments were inflicted by his mother. In this case, Richard sets his house on fire, hides in fear, and gets his parents upset at what he has done. It is as if he constantly makes mistakes and doesn’t stop. This is the first instance in which Richard will do something which provokes his mother into punishing him. He will do this many times during the progression of the story, so he, as you can see, takes a lot of pain through his life. This is what happens:
‘You almost scared us to death,” my mother muttered as she stripped the leaves from a tree limb to prepare it for my back. I was lashed so hard and so long that I lost consciousness. I was beaten out of my senses and later I found myself in bed, screaming, determined to run away, tussling with my mother and father who were trying to keep me still. I was lost in a fog of fear. A doctor was called-I was afterwards told-and he ordered that I be kept abed, that I be quiet, that my very life depended on it. My body seemed on fire and I could not sleep... But for a long time I was chastened whenever I remembered that my mother had come close to killing me.
As you can see, Richard’s mother does care about him. However, that does not stop her from forcing huge punishment. As you can see, Richard is quite troublesome, but being beaten helps him learn more and more on what limits he needs to consider through his life. Now, you may wonder, “what does this have to do with your question?” Well, I think this shows that we should be considerate and accepting of what we have to go through, which is another thing the author may be trying to point out to readers. Richard, in today’s society, if dealt with like that, would be considered an example of extreme mistreatment, and his parents would be arrested for abuse. In those times, punishment was harsh, much more harsh, especially when there really wasn’t much limitation to what the parents can do to their kids. This was to help them learn, however, I do believe that it was a bit much in his parents part.
There are other important themes in this book as well. In one way or another they all have to do with learning through experience. Yes, this is a book about hardships, pain, and suffering, but readers have to look beyond all of this. This book is not for the character to be sympathized for, but for readers to understand how he became who he was once grown up. Common readers who do not look in depth of the book, would not really understand what the author is trying to point out, but with some studying of the book and constant rereading, messages from the author would be obtained by the readers better. So in these scenes it’s all about learning. But it is actually not even quite so easy or so simple as these scenes I have just discussed might make out.
My next theme is perseverance. Richard went through a lot in his life. The times he went through were rough, he was mistreated by his mother, and he did many things which got him into trouble. Now we learn that through these experiences, he learns, but that’s not the only message the author is trying to convey to the readers. In fact, without Richard’s perseverance, he would not have gotten as far as he did. Richard constantly strived to learn. He always wanted access to more and more knowledge. In doing so, he was able to sustain a better life during those rough times which were set for him. Despite all the discrimination and hardships, he kept going, which shows readers that without perseverance, life would be even harder to live.
I dodged her and ran into the kitchen and grabbed the long bread knife. She followed me and I confronted her. I was so hysterical that I was crying. “If you touch me, I’ll cut you,so help me,” I said in gasps. “I’m going to leave here as soon as I can work and make a living. But as long’s I’m here, you better not touch me.”
So think about this scene on page 173 where Richard is put into a situation in which he threatens his aunt that he will use the knife if needed. This scene reveals that the character has to fight in order to survive. I believe the knife symbolizes Richard’s immense desire to be left alone, protected from harm, due to all the troubles he dealt with during his life. His emotions seem to be because of everything going on in his life, stressing him beyond comprehension. Now, Richard knew his aunt would submit to his threats, and in doing so, took advantage of this, unlike with his mother, who would perhaps install fear into him, making him incapacitated. With every chance or possibilities Richard receives, he uses them in his advantage, helping him survive in life.
My street gang code was making it hard for me. I had never informed upon a boy in the public school, and I was waiting for the boy in front of me to come to my aid, lying, making up excises, anything. In the past I had taken punishment that was not mine to protect the solidarity of the gang, and I had seen other boys do the same. But the religious boy, God helping him, did not speak... I lost control of my temper. “I haven’t done anything!” I yelled. She struck me and I dodged... I stood still, feeling more defeated by the righteous boy behind me than by Aunt Addie.
Look at this scene, this event occurred with Aunt Addie, again. Richard did not do anything wrong, but was wrongly punished for it. Richard was used to his ‘gang’ supporting him and trying to protect each other from problems, but the boy in his class did not do so, although knowing that he did not do anything wrong. Perhaps Aunt Addie just had some sort of resentment towards Richard, punishing him despite his refusal of committing the action. Richard has to go through similar events many times throughout the story, and being patient allowed him to go past these events. Now in some situations, if Richard lost his patience, he would perhaps be killed, but this example shows that Richard had to go through similar problems some of us had to face. Now, this may not be a particularly strong example of perseverance, but it does show, in my opinion a sense of abilities Richard needed to go through all his hardships. By being patient and taking perhaps unneeded pain, he can last.
There is this sense in which this book mainly shows that Richard went through many things during his life. It is true that this book shows the hardships and such that Richard had to go through, but looking deeper into this shows the reader that he was able to learn through all of this, having a better access to knowledge through experience. It is important for the reader to look at what goes on in the story more detailed, rather than skimming through and not trying to find the moral of the story.
There is another way to answer my question: What is the author trying to convey to the readers using this book? The author tries to show that this time setting helped Richard learn a lot. There were many requirements needed for a black person to live appropriately amongst the white people, and with this knowledge, Richard thrived and made it through. “Boy, that’s what we do to niggers when they don’t pay their bills,” he said... Not knowing what to do, I took it... This was a gesture of kindness... they would not beat me if I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. “Yes sir,” I said. This is on page 229, as you can see, colored people were horribly mistreated during those times, and if a white person disagreed with any action they committed, they would be punished unnecessarily, mainly for the amusement and access to power over the colored people.
As you can see, in the above excerpt, Richard witnesses his boss and son, beating a black woman for not paying bills. Now, there can be punishment, but that abuse should not have been accepted during those times. However, if a colored person was obedient and did exactly as needed, they would be able to get away from problems like that. Richard, knowingly did so, mainly to keep his life unharmed, showing that he has learned about the ways of white people during that time and that they were capable of inflicting much harm to him. As you can see, the author tries to show us that Richard, by learning earlier about these white people, was able to stay clear of many problems in which he could have definitely been in.
Black Boy, by Richard Wright, displayed the hardships, learning experiences, as well as perseverance of the main character. Now this book was used to particularly display that Richard through his hardships learned how to survive, everything was a learning experience for him. He was intellectual and took advantage of these events which happened. He suffered a lot and persevered, growing stronger as he pertained knowledge. This shows the reader that learning is a key factor to their lives. Many readers who do not carefully look into the book, do not really understand what Wright is trying to convey, but after rereading and examining text of the book carefully, I began to understand what Richard Wright was trying to do by using his book.
What we can see from all of this is that Richard Wright wants his readers to think that despite having hardships and such, there were people who had much harder obstacles to go through, and with perseverance, learning, and a desire to learn, made it through these obstacles. I learned a lot when reading this book. At first, this was a reading assignment and I thought nothing of it, but once I had to write about the book, and had to search for topics necessary, I began to realize that this book was not intended just to be read for enjoyment, but for learning as well. Richard Wright uses a variety of literary devices to portray what he wants readers to understand.
This book, like many books has a message which the reader has to figure out on his own. Without some in depth thinking, it will be a hard task to accomplish. Now the previous paragraphs written were to show what I have learned while reading Black Boy. There are many lessons we can learn from Black Boy, due to Richard Wright’s creative way to articulate a message into a book, we have to study it, to understand. I have learned quite a few things from this book, and readers should be able to do so as well when thinking about the book. This book was intended for readers to understand a world in the past in which people had to go through hard times, but it was not impossible to get out of them. Working hard, persevering, and learning through experience are key factors which Richard used to survive, telling the reader many things.
My point in summation. what I want you to take away from this, is that reading books may be boring, but they somehow add points and messages without the reader knowing. To learn and comprehend the book better, the reader must take an in depth analysis of the book, helping them understand more. I’ve learned a lot from Black Boy, and this book helped me show that books are perhaps boring mainly for the of reader’s comprehension. Without thinking about the book carefully, it would probably be dull, showing us that taking time to read will help us understand the author and what he is trying to do for his readers.