Richard Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, documents his journey as an African-American male living in the south and his introduction to racial segregation. Throughout the novel Wright connects his actions and his dissatisfaction to a hunger he developed as a child. This hunger accompanies Wright throughout his life and extends far beyond the physical pains of malnutrition. Even as a young child, Wright emphasizes his hunger for understanding the world around him and the repercussions this inquisitive nature has on a Negro living in a society dominated by Jim Crowe laws. Wright’s hunger for self-reliance is a stark opposition to the typical Negro life. Furthermore, Wright exposes the unfulfillment that accompanies his need for independence. Wright makes it apparent that the most dominant hunger is his need for knowledge. This knowledge is the driving force behind every action of Wright’s life and the source of his rebellion against society as he attempts to fulfill this hunger. Wright’s hunger was a constant reminder of the unfulfillment that supplements his life in the South. Throughout the novel Wright highlights his battle with finding his place in American society and filling the hunger that consumes his daily life. In Black Boy, Richard Wright uses the unfulfillment that accompanies his hunger to contest the world around him.
From the beginning of Black Boy, Richard Wright focuses on his ongoing battle with hunger. At first depicting his hunger for a lack of food and quickly developing into something much more unfulfilling. Wright proves this empty hunger through his desire to understand the world around him. Wright uses his inquisitive and insistent nature as a force to contest the world around him. Wright does this by putting into question the race relations between blacks and whites, (this was what separated him from his black community because this was not something you did during that time in the south). “I brooded for a long time about the seemingly causeless beating of the “black” boy by the “white” man and the more questions I asked the more bewildering it all became.”(24) This was the first time that Wright experiences the dichotomy between the two racial statuses. He could not grasp the concept of white man beating a black child if that man was not his father. His misunderstanding of the racial structure is what pushes him toward his hunger for understanding. Wright attempts to further satisfy his understanding through stories, questions and comparisons between his family and the outside world. “My grandmother, who was white as any “white” person, had never looked “white” to me.”(23) Wright’s use of the connotation that he associates to “white” shows Richard beginning to formulate the difference between the two races and the criteria that put people into each racial category. However, Wright shows how his hunger for understanding and inquisitive nature came with repercussions that ostracized him from his black community.“ I had begun to notice that my mother became irritated when I questioned her about whites and black, and I could not quite understand it.”(47) Wright uses this contrast between his probing for information and his mother’s hesitation to answer questions, to illustrate how he was opposing the world around him. His mother, like most of the people in his community new the repercussions of a Negro asking too many questions or the wrong questions, death. Wright shows his family continually discouraging his questions and reprimanding him for being too inquisitive
However, this only pushed Wright farther away from his black community and deeper into his need to understand. Wright’s hunger for understanding lead to his questioning race relations and because of he could not understand the reason for this racial segregation he could not conform or submit to Jim Crowe laws. This eventually led to his social exclusion. Throughout the novel Wright illustrates how his questioning the racial structure...
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