The Library Card

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The Library Card
Richard Wright owes the awakening of his consciousness to his curiosity over why a Southern newspaper would describe a white man, an author named H. L. Mencken, as a fool. The newspaper’s harsh criticism of Mencken made Wright, a black man in the American South, feel somewhat sympathetic of Mencken and curious to know why “the South, which had assigned me the role of a non-man, cast at him its hardest words?” (9). In his first reading of Mencken’s writing, Wright finds out the answer. Mencken’s writing is forceful and bold. Wright observes, “this man was fighting, fighting with words. He was using words as a weapon, using them as one would use a club” (11). This lead Wright to the further realization that “Then, maybe, perhaps, I could use them as a weapon? No. It frightened me” (12). Although the thought frightened him, it also caught Wright’s interest and he continued to read more and more books. While in his everyday life “the impulse to dream had been slowly beaten out of me by experience. Now it surged up again and I hungered for books, new ways of looking and seeing” (12). Books opened up a whole new world to Wright, ways of thinking and feeling that were generally not possible for a poor black man in the American South. In novels, he learns to better understand others. After reading Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, for instance, Wright remarks: “I had always felt a vast distance separating me from the boss, and now I felt closer to him, though still distant. I felt now that I knew him, that I could feel the very limits of his narrow life” (12). Sinclair Lewis’ writings enabled Wright to look at life from the point of view of his white boss. Wright is able to understand the type of person his boss is and the type of life he leads, despite their different race and social class.

While books open Wright to new experiences, thoughts and feelings, the books he reads also makes him realize the limitations and constraints of his own...
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