Black Boy by Richard Wright | Teen Ink

Black Boy by Richard Wright

February 23, 2014
By joecool101 PLATINUM, Brighton, Massachusetts
joecool101 PLATINUM, Brighton, Massachusetts
26 articles 0 photos 67 comments

Favorite Quote:
Think once and nothing will happen; think again and ideas will flow to your mind.

- Joshua Eibelman

In Black Boy, Richard Wright describes his childhood and how he develops. Wright discusses his family and its ideals. He also writes about the norms and values of the black, southern community he lives in as well as the white southern community. Black Boy opened my eyes to the fact that it is possible to be raised in a family and community with one set of beliefs, and grow up to have different ideals.
Despite the fact that his family members and community are very religious Christians, Richard does not believe in God or religion because he cannot “feel” God. He leads his life based on the “sensations of my body” and “what my mind could grasp”. Richard says, “I simply can’t feel religion” (114) and “I’ll never feel God…” (114). Richard’s grandmother, who is an ardent Seventh-Day-Adventist, “maintained a hard religious regime” (111). She expects Richard to pray “sunup and sundown” and “attend certain all-night ritualistic prayer meetings” (111), which Richard describes as a “torment”. His mother is a strong believer in the Methodist Church. The preacher at the Methodist Church calls for mothers of young men who were not members of the Church to “bring (their sons) for baptism” (154). Richard’s mother, being the parent of someone who “lived in darkness” complies immediately. She tries to publically shame Richard into baptism, saying “Don’t you love your old crippled mother? (154). Richard agrees to baptism not because he ‘sees the light’, but because “it was a simple, urgent matter of public pride” (154) for him. After this episode, Richard says that he “felt…sullen anger and a crushing sense of shame” (155). Richard feels contempt for the way people are publically pressured into making religious decisions they do not believe in. Despite his family’s and community’s efforts to get Richard to “know God”, he is seemingly unaffected by his environment in that he does not believe in God or the church. It is stunning that Richard manages to shape his own beliefs by himself because everyone around him thinks differently.
Throughout the novel, Wright describes the differences between him, his family, and the rest of the black community. Wright explains that whereas blacks around him accepted the black fate, which encompassed the lack of opportunity for blacks in the southern world, as well as subservience to whites, he could not accept the fact that blacks do not deserve dignity. He says that he “could not make subservience a part of… (his) behavior” (196). While working as a janitor at a hotel, Richard walks home with a black maid he works with. As they pass the night watchman, Richard sees the white guard slap the buttocks of the lady. While the maid thinks nothing of it and walks on, Richard is “amazed” and stops walking. The watchman pulls out his gun and tells Richard, “N*****, you look like you don’t like what I did” (198). Richard, scared to death, quickly says that he likes it and walks on. When Richard asks the maid how she can stand someone doing that to her, she says that this happens to her “all the time” and that it “don’t matter”. Richard is very disturbed by this incident. He observes in general that the blacks working with him “smoothly… acted out the roles that the white race had mapped out for them” (197). They do not notice that they live a “stunted way of life”. He also notices that the blacks “knew unerringly what to aspire to and what not to aspire to” (197). Blacks would not dream of working professionally. When he is in school, Richard publishes a short story in the negro newspaper called “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half Acre”. When his family finds out about it, they are not happy with him. Richard’s mother tells him “you ought to be more serious” (168). Richard’s classmates do not understand what writing is all about and think he is doing something “vaguely wrong”. When Richard sees his black coworkers gambling and fooling around, he says it is a “miracle” to him that the blacks felt “human existence” in spite of their “debased lives”. He cannot understand how the blacks could be so carefree when, in his mind, they are not living a dignified life- a life deserved by any human being. It is amazing to me that Richard can defy all ideals in his community-both the black southern community and the south in general, in which the entire educational system is structured on making sure blacks stay in their place- and gain a view of the world that most blacks in the south do not have at this time.
Richard has aspirations to go to the north- a place that symbolizes freedom, opportunity, and lack of ignorance to him. Going to the north and “writing books, novels” (168) is his American dream. Wright says, “The North symbolized to me all that I had not felt and seen…” (168). He believes that the north represents his ideals, most importantly that blacks deserve to be treated with humanity by whites and should have an equal chance at prosperity as white people. Black Boy is about the American dream- and how a black boy defies all beliefs in his community- the black southern community and the south in general in order to attain this American dream.
Richard’s ability to question and challenge, and to come up with his own ideas marks the beginnings of a thinker and a writer. A writer’s goal is to bring to light new ideas. A writer is brave, in that he is not afraid to share novel and sometimes controversial ideas with the rest of the world. Richard’s independent thinking confronts contemporary beliefs of his time. His fearless attitude towards sharing his thoughts is the precursor to the bravery every writer should have.
The fact that a person can shape his own ideas, beliefs, values, and ideals in spite of one’s own environment brings hope to me. It is hope that people can recover from the “slave mentality” after being enslaved. It is hope that the effects of brutality are not permanent. Aside from that, it is hope that good people can come from any background and uproots the saying “an apple does not fall far from the apple tree”.

The author's comments:
Black Boy is a classic American novel, considered to be both an autobiography and fiction. It is bildungsroman, an odyssey for a black, southern man into maturity. The novel deals with the black struggle in the south as well as a personal struggle for Richard Wright.

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