ichard Wright's 1945 autobiography Black Boy covers his life from four years of age to the moment of his departure from the South (Memphis, Tennessee, where he had earlier migrated from Mississippi) to the North (Chicago) at nineteen. Its subject and title place it in the tradition of African American autobiography, beginning with the nineteenth-century slave narrative, a genre in which the autobiographer describes the particularities of his own life in order to speak of the situation and condition of the race in general. While presenting the details of one life, Black Boy is intended to reveal the horrors, cruelties, and privations undergone by the masses of African Americans living in the South (and in the United States as a whole) during the first decades of the twentieth century.
Originally Wright's Black Boy was the first section of a much longer work titled American Hunger and divided into two parts: “Southern Night”, detailing Wright's early life in the South, and “The Horror and the Glory”, treating his life in Chicago and describing racism northern style. After Harper & Brothers received the manuscript from Wright, they submitted it to the Book-of-the-Month Club for consideration as a monthly selection. The club agreed to accept it on condition that its first section alone, later titled by Wright Black Boy, be published. The complete text of the second section of American Hunger was first published in 1977 by Harper & Row. The entire work, composed of both sections, as Wright originally wrote it, was published for the first time in 1992 by the Library of America.
One of the primary themes of Wright's autobiographical narrative involves the influence of racism on the personal interrelations not only among the individuals of the oppressed group but within the family itself. The first episode of the narrative, in which Wright at four years of age innocently burns down the family home, has no racial implications per se, but the response of his mother...
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