Black Boy by Richard Wright Overview
Black Boy, an autobiography of Richard Wright's early life, examines Richard's tortured years in the Jim Crow South from 1912 to 1927. In each chapter, Richard relates painful and confusing memories that lead to a better understanding of the man a black, Southern, American writer who eventually emerges. Although Richard, as the narrator, maintains an adult voice throughout the story, each chapter is told from the perspective and knowledge that a child might possess. Yet, because the narrative is told with such force and honesty, the reliability of Richard's memories is not questioned. By the story's end, as Richard comes of age, the voice of the narrator and of the nineteen-year-old young man he has become merge into one. The story begins when four-year-old Richard sets fire to his grandmother's house in Jackson, Mississippi, and, as punishment, is nearly beaten to death by his mother. He recovers, and the brutal punishment establishes in Richard an ability to survive any circumstance. The family then moves to Memphis, Tennessee, where Richard's father eventually deserts the family. In Memphis, Richard learns about racism both from what he observes in the world and how his family members humiliate themselves in front of whites. It is also here that Richard becomes alienated from God and the Christian faith, developing in its place an abiding love of the natural world. As Richard grows up, he begins to see how easily he might repeat the patterns that have trapped black men for generations. When his mother becomes ill, however, Richard moves with her back to Jackson to live with his oppressive grandmother. There, sees opportunities for breaking out of his preordained life and avoid becoming trapped in it. He also recognizes how religion can unite people along lines other than skin color. Prayer also brings added value: Although Richard is unable to talk to God when he prays, he does find ideas for stories, thus beginning his...
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