Struggle for Individuality
The autobiography, Black Boy, follows the life of Richard Wright and his experiences as a young African American teenager facing racism in the South. Throughout the novel, Wright focuses on the oppression society inflicts upon him. He finds difficulty in remaining employed because he does not act “black” or submissive enough. He is physically and emotionally attacked for being African American as the majority of the South contains an extremely racist culture. Wright does not even have his family to rely on for support because they criticize and beat him as well. Differences within his family along with incidences of violent attacks and disrespectful language plague Wright and try to deplete his confidence and identity. However, Wright simultaneously finds measures within these aspects to gain back his individuality and happiness. He fights back through violence to uphold his right of walking safely in Memphis; he uses all of his ability to avoid beatings from his family, and he finds joy and sense of worth when he writes stories. Ultimately, Wright struggles to keep his sense of identity in a society that degrades his persona, but manages to obtain his individuality in the end.
Through violence, Wright begins to understand that society is laying out a persona for him to accept that is not initially his. In the South, he learns he must accept the role as the meek and respectful “nigger.” Wright experiences violence one day that teaches him how whites expect him to act in the South. Wright recounts, “The car stopped and the white men piled out and stood over me. ‘Nigger, ain’t you learned no better sense’n that yet?’ asked the man who hit me. ‘Ain’t you learned to say sir to a white man yet?’” (181). Wright is smashed between the eyes with a glass bottle when he does not answer a white man by “sir”. The repetition of questions from the white man illustrates the authority the white man feels over Wright. The white man questions Wright as if he is an uneducated child. His word choice of “sense” portrays that saying “sir” to a white man should be common sense. After this incident, Wright “[learns] rapidly how to watch white people, to observe their every move, every fleeting expression, how to interpret what was said and what left unsaid” (181). He treats and studies white people delicately to ensure that he does not upset the balance between the higher citizen and lower citizen, and thus does not have to suffer their brutal consequences.
As Wright learns he is unable to act naturally, society gradually shapes him into what it thinks he should be. Wright recalls, “all the violent expressions of hate and hostility that had seeped into us from our surroundings, came now to the surface to guide our actions” (83). Wright’s utilization of the “h” alliteration in “hate” and “hostility” emphasizes a heavy “h” sound to reinforce the thickness and greatness of their conflict, that their differences were not just on the surface, but blood deep. The “s” alliteration in the word, “seeped,” “surroundings,” and “surface” creates a low, rattling “s” sound to create a sense of savagery in their actions. As Wright grows, he begins to experience the segregation between white and black. He also begins to accept the role of an angry African American that society casts him to play. He learns that he must act as a quiet and obedient “nigger” as he is constantly beaten whenever he acts otherwise.
Wright’s family also takes away his freedom to be himself as they consistently beat him. In one incidence, he tells of the time his Uncle Tom was infuriated with the way he speaks. His uncle says, “I never heard a sassier black imp than you in all my life” (157). Wright does not understand what he said or what he did wrong; yet his uncle is persistent in beating him, believing that Wright does not know how to live with people. Wright asks “How long was I going to be beaten for trifles and less than trifles?” (158)....
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