A Man Saying No
“What is a rebel? A man who says no.” (Albert Camus, The Rebel) Black Boy is more than a mere autobiography, dealing with a man during the time of Jim Crow laws. Indeed, though the book is generally advertised as such, the greater theme here is not of the black man versus the white; it is of Richard’s fight against adversity, and the prevalent and constraining attitudes of not just his time, or the “White South”, but of the attitude of conformity throughout all time. Richard develops from birth to become a nonconformist; a rebel, and we can see this attitude throughout his whole life. As a child, he refuses to simply follow orders if they make no sense to him; for this, he is lashed repeatedly. As he grows older, he begins to recognize why he refuses to conform, instead of doing so instinctively, clashing with his uncles and grandmother. Later on, as a man, he flees to the North, becoming a writer, and eventually joining the Communists of America. But even there, he finds an air of conformity; even amongst the rebels and outcasts of Marxist America, there is a game of politics, which one must conform to, or lose to the system by. Richard Wright is a man of principles, and of nonconformity, which leads him to clash, pity, and hold those who have given into the system in contempt.
Richard Wright is very much both a product of the times, as well as his upbringing and attitude. It is very often said that a child’s personality is mostly determined by the age of four. Nothing is more true with Richard Wright. The resounding impact his father and mother have on him can be seen throughout the whole book. In many ways, his mother and father act as antitheses of each other: one acting as the moral figure, teaching Richard morality, and the strength to hold onto it, while the other acts as a figure of repression, the force which Richard will rebel against for his whole life. This relationship is established most strongly by Richard’s killing of the cat...
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