Black Boy by Richard Wright
November 25, 2012
Black Boy is an autobiography of Richard Wright who grew up in the backwoods of Mississippi. He lived in poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and had rage towards those around him; at six he was a "drunkard," hanging about in taverns. He was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common people who were slaves or struggling.
The book opens with Richard who is 4 years old at the time, who is required by his mother to sit still and quiet while his grandmother lays in the next room very sick. Richard is bored and sticks a broom in the fireplace then touches it to the curtains, which leads to his accidentally burning down the family home in Natchez, Mississippi. Scared for his life, Richard hides under the burning house. His father, Nathan, retrieves him from his hiding place. Then, his mother, Ella, beats him so severely that he loses consciousness and becomes ill.
Nathan (Richard’s father) abandons the family to live with another woman while Richard and his brother, Alan, are still very young. Without Nathan’s financial support, the Wrights fall into poverty and hunger. Richard closely associates his family’s hardship—and particularly their hunger—with his father and therefore grows bitter toward him. Richards hunger is so severe that at time he losses consciousness.
For the next few years, Ella (Richard’s mother) struggles to raise her children in Memphis, Tennessee. Her long hours of work leave her little time to supervise Richard and his brother. Richard gets into all sorts of trouble, spying on people in outhouses and becoming a regular at the local saloon—and an alcoholic—by the age of six. Ella’s worsening health prevents her from raising two children alone and her health leaves her unable to work. During these times, Richard does whatever odd jobs a child can do to