Black Boy is an autobiographical work in which Wright adapted formative episodes from his own life into a "coming of age" plot. In the novel, Richard is a boy in the Jim Crow American South. This was a system of racial segregation practiced in some states of the U.S., which treated blacks as second-class citizens. In his novel, Wright emphasizes two environmental forces of this system: hunger and language He shows how hunger drives the already oppressed to even more desperate acts, and his emphasis on language explains how he managed to survive Jim Crow: by developing an attention to language as a coping mechanism for the surface world of life. Meanwhile, literature offered him internal release from the tensions of living without the freedom to express his dignity as a human being. Thus, Wright's novel is a powerful story of the individual struggle for the freedom of expression. Frustrated by his mother’s order to remain quiet, four-year-old Richard Wright is bored out of his mind in his grandparents’ house in Natchez, Mississippi. With nothing better to do, Richard plays with a broom, lighting stray straws in the fireplace and watching them burn. He then decides to set the curtains on fire to see what they look like when they burn. The fire rages out of control, and the terrified Richard runs out of the room. Fearing punishment, he hides under the burning house until his father, Nathan, retrieves him. Richard’s mother, Ella, then lashes him until he loses consciousness, knocking him into a delusional fever for several days. Wright then muses, in a stretch of intensely descriptive writing, on his fantastical and sentimental reflections upon the world around him.
Richard recovers from his fever and moves with his family to Memphis, Tennessee. His father, Nathan, works as a night porter in a drugstore and sleeps during the day. One morning, Richard and his brother, playing with a noisy stray kitten they have found outside, wake Nathan. The kitten will not go away....
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