Social Injustice And Human Suffering in “Black Boy” By Richard Wright
“Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone” – Amy Tan. Richard Wright is one who’s amongst those who are such superb writers. In Black Boy, by Richard Wright, a powerful account of Richard Wright’s journey is discussed throughout. Richard Wright speaks with his own voice about his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. He covers two major themes in American literary history: social injustice and human suffering. His spoken truth brings up matters that can still evoke at the center of our lives.
As a child living in Memphis, Tennessee, Wright encountered poverty. “Hunger stole upon me so slowly that at first I was not aware of what hunger really ment… I would grow dizzy and my vision would dim. I became less active in my play, and for the first time in my life I had to pause and think of what was happening to me”. Wright’s hunger symbolized a struggle that he had in his life, and that was associated with his father, whom Wright and his family had relied on for providing them food, but suddenly got abandoned from. Wright’s father’s absence would mean that there would be no food. Wright then went through days sliding past the image of his father becoming involved with his experience of hunger pain, and whenever he felt hunger, he thought of his father with a deep biological bitterness. Since his father abandoned the family, his mother has been the one who raised them and worked very hard each day to provide for them. Wright’s mother also tried to get them to become mature and take upon themselves the responsibility of the flat while she worked. Wright then started to experience violence near his home. He would be so full of fear of getting beaten and robbed by a specific group of boys. “They came toward me and I broke into a wild run toward home. They overtook me and flung me to the pavement. I yelled, pleaded, kicked, but they wrenched the money out of my hand. They yanked me to my feet, gave me a few slaps, and sent me home sobbing”. That one moment made Wright’s mother teach him to stand up and fight for himself. The same situation soon happened again, but then things suddenly changed for Wright, who suddenly won the right to the streets of Memphis. In Wright’s sixth year, before he had begun school, he was a drunkard. Wright would crave for alcohol and beg for pennies from passers-by. He later stopped craving for alcohol and forgot the taste of it when his mother placed him and his brother in the keeping of an elderly black woman who’d watch his every moment to prevent him for repeating his mistakes. He soon stumbles upon the relations between whites and blacks, and what he learned, frightened him. When word circulated among the black people of the neighborhood that a black boy had been severely beaten by a white man, Wright felt that the white man had had a right to beat the black boy, for he naively assumed that the white man must have been the black boy’s father. Wright then learned from his mother that the white man was not the father of the black boy and that the white man didn’t whip the black boy, but beat him. He eventually learns about racism from what he observes in the world. That then made him now wonder about white people and what they were really like.
When school opened, Wright didn’t prepare himself, but he enrolled anyways (in the eighth grade). During that time, he became quiet and reserved as the nature of the world in which he lived, became plain and undeniable; the emptiness of the future affected his will to study. “The eighth grade days flowed in their hungry path and I grew more conscious of myself; I sat in classes, bored, wondering, dreaming”. Wright’s school was far across town and the walking distance alone consumed his breakfast of mush and lard gravy. Wright also seemed to feel an undue awareness of himself, his appearance, or his actions. He was aware of and responded to his surroundings. He became more concerned and tense. He’d also daydream about one thing in particular that he was passionate about, which was writing stories. He’d imagine a place where everything was possible, believing that he had a naïve imagination that possibility was too remote. He even tried to keep hope alive in him. One long fry afternoon, he took out his composition book and told himself that he would write a story; it was sheer idleness that led him to it. That then led Wright into publishing his first short story, The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre, which he described as “crudely atmospheric, emotional, intuitively psychological, and stemmed from pure feeling” (165). The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre then got divided into three installments by an editor, who also gave Wright a chance to write. Eventually, Wright’s story took part in the copies of the Southern Register, but no copies survived. Wright later needed an all-day job that would pay him enough money to buy clothes and books for the next school term. Luckily the studies in his ninth—his last year at school— were light, and he had a chance to have good grades. “It was even hinted that, if I kept my grades high, it would be possible for me to teach in the city school system”. During a part of the term, Wright’s teacher turned over the class to his supervision, which was an honor that helped him emotionally, and made him hope faintly. Wright seemed to have hopes in taking an opportunity to become a teacher. When the school term ended, he was selected as valedictorian of his class and was assigned to write a paper to be delivered in a public auditorium. Later, Wright was called to the principal’s office, where the principal gave him a prepared speech to present in place of his own. He then challenged the principal due to how he didn’t want to make a public speech that wasn’t his own. The principal then threatened him, suggesting that he might not be allowed to graduate if he persisted, despite having passed all the examinations. He also tried to entice Wright with an opportunity to become a teacher. He put pressure on one of Wright’s uncles to speak to Wright and get him to change his mind, but Wright continued to be adamant about presenting his own speech and refused to let his uncle edit it. Despite the pressure, Wright delivered his speech as he had planned. Later that year, he begins high school but drops out after only a few weeks so he can earn money. At times he worked two or even three jobs. He took a series of odd jobs to earn money for family expenses and save enough money to leave for Memphis, which he did at age seventeen. During that time in his life, he began to read contemporary American literature, as well as commentary by H. L. Mencken, which struck him with particular force.
Wright’s first move to Jackson, Mississippi seemed to be nice for him. “Granny’s home in Jackson was an enchanting place to explore… Granny’s son, Uncle Clark, had bought her this home, and its white plastered walls, its front and back porches, its round columns and banisters, made me feel that surely there was no finer house in all the round world”. He seemed to like the thought of his grandmother’s home. His grandmother’s home seemed to be very different compared to where he lived in before he moved there. It also seemed to be a place where Wright could now live comfortably in. Wright and his brother also had many advantages of living in such a nice home. “There were wide green fields in which my brother and I roamed and played and shouted. And there were the timid children of the neighbors, boys and girls to whom my brother and I felt superior in worldly knowledge. We took pride in telling them what it was like to ride on a train, what the yellow, sleepy Mississippi River looked like, how it felt to sail on the Kate Adams, what Memphis looked like, and how I had run off from the orphan home. And we would hint that we were pausing for but a few days and then would be off to even more fabulous places and marvelous experiences”. Wright and his brother seemed to love living in their grandmother’s home, especially because of the atmosphere in which it’s located in. They also had a chance to explore and roam around the area. It’s like Jackson, Mississippi was a sweet escape for Wright and his family. Wright then soon comes into contact with books and stories. A young woman named Ella, who is boarding at Granny’s house, to help support the household, reads Richard the story of Bluebeard and His Seven Wives. She tells Wright that the story is about a man named Bluebeard, who loved and married seven women but murdered them by hanging them up in a closet. As she spoke to Wright about the story, reality changed for him, “the look of things altered, and the world became peopled with magical presences”. Wright’s sense of life then deepened and the feel of things was different, somehow. He was enchanted and enthralled, his imagination blazed, and the sensations that the story had, aroused him. The magical moment then ended abruptly when his grandmother found out. Wright’s grandmother was in a blaze of fury then scolding Ella. “You stop that, you evil gal! I want none of that Devil stuff in my house!”. She seemed to think of the story as the “Devil’s work”. Wright’s grandmother was a very religious woman, and that seemed to influence her opinion about stories, thinking of them as sinful. She seemed to definitely not like anything fiction or fantasy in her Jackson domain. Life with Granny then comes to be full of punishment, but Wright still then couldn’t contain his mischievous spirit.
In conclusion, Richard Wright’s biography has been broken up into several parts. I’ve discussed three in particular: his childhood in Tennessee, his grade/ high school experience, and his first move to Jackson, Mississippi. Richard Wright observed standards of the society during these particular times of his life. He also got affected by those standards, which made him respond to them, profoundly. He significantly crafted a narrative of his early life that made me have a strong appreciation of his artistry. His autobiography told a story about his experience of the American society in the Jim Crow South, but it also gave life to words, to language to be exact. I recognized that Richard Wright had a gift for writing, and how he had many techniques to bring that writing to life.
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