Child Discipline in relation to Adulthood

Nov 23, 2010

Richard Wright’s book, Black Boy is an astounding book.  Richard Wright conveys’ his messages so clearly and flawlessly.  This is perhaps one of the most detailed books that someone could ever read. It really makes people feel like they are plugged into the protagonist’s life during the early 1900’s. Anyone who reads this book would find it to be astonishing and would finish it without a doubt.  

Black Boy, by Richard Wright is a story about the life of an African American boy, Richard, growing up during the early 1900’s.  In the beginning of this book, due to his curiosity and foolishness the protagonist Richard, wreaks all kinds of havoc upon his family.  An example of what I mean is on page 16.  “Why had I not thought of those things before I fired the curtains?  I yearned to become invisible, to stop living.  The commotion above me increased and I began to cry.  It seemed that I had been hiding for ages, and when the stomping and the screaming died down I felt lonely, cast forever out of life.  Voices sounded near-by and I shivered.”  

So far, the theme in Black Boy reminds me of the story in another book.  In The Color Purple it also shares the same theme of segregation.  The entire book is about a girl who fights through an abusive relationship with her father as well as segregation.  Both of these books are examples of typical novels about segregation.  Also, the protagonists of both books are both trying to find their purpose in life and in their journey face numerous obstacles.

This book is particularly preoccupied with the relationship between child discipline and the impact it has on adulthood.  These are very important, issues in our society right now because it provides us with the knowledge of what life was like back during the early twentieth century.  It is also a significant issue because it displays the differences with child discipline today.

To show that these issues are important in Black Boy let’s take a look closely first at a selection from the beginning to the middle of the book.  Wright is basically showing us the change that Richard is undergoing as he went from a little boy to a teenager.  This shows us how teenagers in society are transformed into who they are based on their childhood experiences.  This book is looking for the type of reader that can connect with their experiences to the protagonist.

On page 277 there is one of these passages where Richard starts to think about the way people look at him and starts to figure more about himself.  “I lit a cigarette and sat for a long time.  I had never dreamed that anyone would accept me so simply, so completely, without question or the least hint of personal aggrandizement.” What Wright gives us here is a different kind of view of how the protagonist reacts to a situation.  So one thing this means to the reader is how accepting certain people can be.  


How does the discipline Richard faces during his childhood impact his adulthood? To begin to answer this, let’s turn to the very first chapter in the book, specifically on page 17.


In this scene Richard had just caused a tragedy for his family by playing around and ending up burning down his house.  His mother who was worried sick was relieved when she found out he was okay, however prepared him for his harsh punishment.  Take a look at this passage on page 17.

“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 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 kept quiet, that my very life depended upon it.  My body seemed on fire and I could not sleep.  Packs of ice were put on my forehead to keep down the fever.  Whenever I tried to sleep I would see huge wobbly white bags, like the full udder of cows, suspended from the ceiling above me.  Later as I grew worse, I could see the bags in the daytime with my eyes open and I was gripped by the fear that they were going to fall and drench me with some horrible liquid.”


Why is this scene important? The author is basically trying to describe how harshly the punishment was for Richard and how even the doctor was called up to check on him.  This was used to show how child discipline was like during the early twentieth century.  It is also used to show to what would happen later in the book when the protagonist becomes a teenager.

Now lets take a look at another scene where Richard just got an order from his mother who gave him money to go and get groceries.  However Richard couldn’t complete the request because there was a gang of boys who beat him up and robbed him (page 30).  

“They came toward me and I broke into a wild run toward home.  They overtook me and flung me to the pavement.  I yelled, pleaded, kicked, but they wrenched the money out of my hand.  They yanked me to my feet, gave me a few slaps, and sent me home sobbing.  My mother met me at the door.  --They beat me, I gasped.  They t-t-took the m-money.  I started up the steps, seeking the shelter house.  --Don’t you come in here, my mother warned me. -- You just stay right where you are, she said in a deadly tone.  I’m going to teach you this night to stand up and fight for yourself.”

Let’s take a look at both of these scenes, and why they have a say about my question: How does the discipline Richard faces during his childhood impact his adulthood? Wright basically wants us to understand that strict discipline is much more effective for a child’s future.  He wants us to know that later, life would become much more difficult and therefore all of this cruel discipline would just be preparation.

The sense of child discipline, suggested already by these two scenes where Richard was severely punished for burning down his house and where Richard gets beat up by a group of boys and learns to stand up for himself.  We see this theme again on page 62 when Richard says something very disturbing and inappropriate to his grandmother.  His mother finds out and yet again waits to beat him for his misbehavior.  This relates to the first two scenes because he is once again receiving harsh discipline from his mother who is eager to teach him a lesson.

Lets take a look at page 62.  “I stayed under the bed far into the night.  The household went to sleep.  Finally hunger and thirst drove me out; when I stood up I found my mother lurking in the doorway, waiting for me.-- Come into the kitchen, she said.  I followed her and she beat me, but she did not use the wet towel; Grandpa had forbade that.  Between strokes of the switch she would ask me where had I learned the dirty words and I could not tell her; and my inability to tell her made her furious.  I’m going to beat you until you tell me, she declared.”

After disobeying his mother and not telling her where he learned such foul words, his mother would ominously wait for him to come out from under the bed in order to beat him and teach him a lesson.  This demonstrates how harsh, and yet how effective child discipline was during this time.


There are other important themes in this book as well. In one way or another they all have to do with <one word that everything is coming back to>. Yes, this is a book about <what are some of the superficial, first interpretations that a reader might have -- or that you might have had at first?>, but it is very much, very consciously, a book about <what are the deeper, more universal themes in this book?>. So in these early scenes it's all about <one word summary>. But it's actually not even quite so easy or so simple as these early scenes that I've just discussed might make out.


Another theme Wright presents in this book is the relationship between the mother and son which is similar to the first theme.  Throughout the beginning and middle of the book, the reader would surely find the relationship between the protagonist and his mother to be a very interesting one.

So think back about the scene on page 30 where Richard was to go grocery shopping.  In this scene, Richard’s mom forced him to get groceries no matter what the cause, even if it had to mean fighting off a gang of a bunch of older boys.  Although his mother is portrayed as a harsh parent, she is actually preparing him for reality.  She tells him not to come back without the groceries and teaches him how to stand up for himself.  This made Richard who he is; before this Richard had always been afraid and closed out from the real world.  But this experience opened a whole bunch of doors for him.

There is another way to answer my question: How does the discipline Richard faces during his childhood impact his adulthood? One’s mother has a huge role in this question because she decided how her child should be raised and disciplined.  Whatever her decision is would impact her child tremendously in the future.  Take a look at page 24, where we get an idea of this.  Richard had just killed a cat due to the word of his father.  His mother however disapproved of this and punished Richard by ordering him to go out and dig a grave for the poor kitten.  Wright is using symbolism to show how sympathetic and compassionate the mother is i the family.  Here’s a part of this:

“I’m sorry, I mumbled.-- Being sorry can’t make that kitten live again, she said.  Then just before I was to go to bed, she uttered a paralyzing injunction: she ordered me to go out into the dark, dig a grave, and bury the kitten.  No! I screamed, feeling that if I went out of doors some evil spirit would whisk me away.-- Get out there and bury that poor kitten, she ordered.-- I’m scared!-- And wasn’t that kitten scared when you put that rope around its neck? she asked.”

What we see here is Richards mother lecturing him on what is right from wrong.  She wanted Richard to develop a sense of sympathy for killing the kitten and ordered him to bury it.  Throughout the novel, even though his mother seems to nag and beat him numerous times, she doesn’t do it pointlessly, but rather to teach him a lesson and help him become a sophisticated human being.

What we can see from all of this is that Richard Wright wants his/her reader to think that child discipline plays a huge role in developing the child’s future.  The themes that were mentioned display the conclusion that I have come to.

My point in sum, what I want you to take away from this, is that every mother has a reason for punishing her child.  The discipline that Richard went through in his childhood made him to be what he has become towards the end of the novel.  Without the support and punishments from his mother, he most likely would have not learned how to sustain such a life.