Black Boy by Richard Wright Summary
November 25, 2012
Black Boy is an autobiography of Richard Wright who grew up in the backwoods of Mississippi. He lived in poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and had rage towards those around him; at six he was a "drunkard," hanging about in taverns. He was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common people who were slaves or struggling. The book opens with Richard who is 4 years old at the time, who is required by his mother to sit still and quiet while his grandmother lays in the next room very sick. Richard is bored and sticks a broom in the fireplace then touches it to the curtains, which leads to his accidentally burning down the family home in Natchez, Mississippi. Scared for his life, Richard hides under the burning house. His father, Nathan, retrieves him from his hiding place. Then, his mother, Ella, beats him so severely that he loses consciousness and becomes ill. Nathan (Richard’s father) abandons the family to live with another woman while Richard and his brother, Alan, are still very young. Without Nathan’s financial support, the Wrights fall into poverty and hunger. Richard closely associates his family’s hardship—and particularly their hunger—with his father and therefore grows bitter toward him. Richards hunger is so severe that at time he losses consciousness. For the next few years, Ella (Richard’s mother) struggles to raise her children in Memphis, Tennessee. Her long hours of work leave her little time to supervise Richard and his brother. Richard gets into all sorts of trouble, spying on people in outhouses and becoming a regular at the local saloon—and an alcoholic—by the age of six. Ella’s worsening health prevents her from raising two children alone and her health leaves her unable to work. During these times, Richard does whatever odd jobs a child can do to bring in some money for the family. School is hardly an option for him. At one point, the family’s troubles are so severe that Ella must place her children in an orphanage for 6 weeks. The family then moves to Tennessee, In Memphis, Richard learns about racism both from what he observes in the world and how his family members humiliate themselves in front of whites. It is also here that Richard becomes alienated from God and the Christian faith, and in its place he finds love of the natural world. Richard Is around age 12 at this time. As Richard grows up, he begins to see how easily he might repeat the patterns that have trapped black men for generations. When his mother becomes ill, Richard moves with her back to Jackson to live with his grandmother. There, he sees opportunities for breaking out of the lifestyle he is living and could become trapped in it. As he ventures into the white world to find jobs, he encounters extreme racism and brutal violence, which stays with him the rest of his life. The family is starving to death. They have always viewed the north as a place of opportunity, and so as soon as they can scrape together enough money, Richard and his aunt go to Chicago, promising to send for his mother and brother. When he moves to the North he finds it better than the South and not as racist, this leads to him forming ideas about American race relations. He finds and works, many jobs, most of them menial and very low paying. He washes floors by day and reads medical journals at night. His family is still very poor, and now his mother is crippled by a severe stroke, his relatives continue to harass him about his atheism and his reading. They don't see the point of it, and clearly do not understand Richard and his conflicting views. Richard eventually finds a job at the post office. After some pleading and persuasive talking Richard lands the job. It is there that he meets some white men who share his cynical view of the world, and religion in particular....
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