Book Review of Richard Wright’s, Black Boy
Richard Wright was a young man of extreme intelligence and openness to speak his mind. Richards writings in “Black Boy” are a collection of his alienation, not only from white society, but from his own people. In Richards boyhood there was virtually no chance for a personality such as his to develop freely.
Everything conspired against personal freedom, not only the white social structure, but the black as well. Richard was treated brutally and tyrannically at home in order to prevent his being treated the same way or worse outside of home and especially in the white society. His family tried to enforce a code of conduct on him, so when in the presence of whites he would not be harmed. The family was trying to convey to Richard that black children must never strive to be more than black children; if they did, not only would they suffer a terrible fate by the white people, but their families would as well. This was a method of limiting ones individuality, fortunate!
for Richard he overcame and aspired to become a great writer. Richards struggle for freedom and individuality started at a young age with the brutality from his family and the black society. We see this very early when Richard is beaten, almost to death, by his mother and father for setting the house on fire. On could argue that the beaten was justified, but the extreme method of this beaten can not be justified. It appears that Richard was more afraid of the punishment he would receive from his family, rather then the punishmenwouldt he receive from the white people. He shows this when he is fighting with white boys on his way to the grocery store and his mother keeps sending him back to purchase the groceries. “I have the choice of being beaten at home or away from home” (p20) He chose to fight the white boys rather then get beaten by his mother, this helped build his individuality. This brutality within the family continued with other members of his family after his mother became ill. This was to ensure that he learn the code of conduct that he should follow towards white people.
Richards greatest struggles were with Granny and Aunt Addie, as they tried to control his individuality. Richard attends the Seventh-Day Adventist school taught by his Aunt Addie and rebels against its strict rules. While in school he was faulted and punished by his Aunt Addie for throwing walnut shells on the floor, which he had not done. Richard stood by his street gang code of not telling on someone for faults they committed, because of this he was punished again. Richard did not excel in school while his Aunt was his teacher. Once Richard transfers to the public Jim Hill School, he excels academically and gains friends. Richard was finally given up as a lost cause by his family; they expect nothing of him anymore, so he was free to do as he chooses. Richard now is no longer one who struggles against his family in order to win their approval, so he turns his rebellion to the outside.
Richard growing awareness of a world outside his own, starts with inquires of his mother on the subject of white people. Richard feels that he may be late in learning to sense white people because he never really thought of them, they just existed. Also, the fact that “tardiness in learning to sense white people as white people came from the fact that many of my relatives were white – looking people” (p27) His mother tries to protect him from seeing his condition for what it is. Richards mothers and familys efforts to make him comply with the standards set by a white society succeed only insofar as Richard could take care of himself. They failed, however, in keeping him unconscious of his own individuality. His inquires continue of black and white people. Richards openness of asking questions and making statements to whites lead to a view of the brutality and rejection of blacks by whites. This restricted the ability of the Negro to strive for individuality.
Richards home and school life have prepared him, psychologically, for the shock of working with whites
and the limitation of his individuality in the white society. This preparation would lead to a tolerance of the white’s racist arrogance and brutality. Through his many jobs working for whites, he was never able to totally comply to their demands and treatment. Richard was beaten up by whites passing in a car; he was fired from on job for witnessing the beating of a black woman by whites; he was tortured by two white co-workers in an optical house – and in all these cases, he was never allowed to respond as a Individual. In order to survive, Richard needed to bow and scrape in the presence of white people. “White people make it their business to watch niggers” (p217) Therefor, it is important for black people to be aware of the expressions on their face or in their eyes and to think before speaking or acting towards white people.
Richards friend Griggs summaries the action towards whites: “When youre in front of white people, think before you act, think before you speak. Your way of doing things is all right among our people, but not for white people. They wont stand for it.” (p218) An example of this was when Richard gets a ride from a car full of white boys, they asked “Wanna drink, boy?” (p214) and Richards reply “Oh, no!” (p214) This did not follow the code of conduct towards white people, and therefor he was beaten. This simple reply did not follow the code of conduct because it did not address the white boys as “Sir.” Richard had numerous physical hungers (food), but he also had numerous sociological hungers. One of these hungers was to become respected as an individual.
Once he knew what it meant to be a Negro, his hunger for individuality grow. “But to feel that there were feelings denied me, that the very breath of life itself was beyond my reach, that more than anything else hurt, wounded me.” (p296) Richard was a victim of white peoples racist arrogance, just as he was also a victim of Grannys and Aunt Addies terrible righteousness. The difference is the response he was able to give. At home he could fight back or argue his side of the story and even if it led nowhere, he had a small satisfaction of responding like a human being. This response meant that he had more individual freedom while at home, but he was stripped of his individuality and his manhood while working with the white people. The brutality at home and from the black community was harsher than the brutality in the white peoples world. This was not because of the physical treatment but because of the fact that this treatment was with people of his own family and race. Richards goal was to get enough money to leave the South for a better opportunity in the North. This was achieved when he realizes his limitation in the relationships between blacks and whites in the South. He learned how to play the role that his family and white people expect of him. Richard used the code of conduct towards whites to achieve his goal and his individuality.
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