Hunger in Richard Wright's Black Boy
Length: 969 words (2.8 double-spaced pages)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Hunger in Black Boy
Have you ever experienced real hunger? The kinds of hungers that
Richard experiences in Black Boy are not evident in the society where you
and I reside. The present middle class citizens cannot really relate to
true physical hunger. Hunger for most of us is when there is nothing that
we desire to eat around the house and therefore skip one meal. This cannot
even compare to the days that Richard endures without food. Physical
hunger, however, is not the only hunger apparent in Richard's life.
Richard suffers from emotional and educational hungers as well. He yearns
for such things as mere association with others and simple books to read.
Both of which are things that most people take for granted. This
efficacious autobiography, Black Boy, by Richard Wright manifests what it
is like to desire such simple paraphernalia.
From a very early age and for much of his life thereafter, Richard
experiences chronic physical hunger. "Hunger stole upon me slowly that at
first I was not aware of what hunger really meant. Hunger had always been
more or less at my elbow when I played, but now I began to wake up at night
to find hunger standing at my bedside, staring at me gauntly" (16). Soon
after the disappearance of Richard's father, he begins to notice constant
starvation. This often reappears in his ensuing life. The type of hunger
that Richard describes is worse than one who has not experienced chronic
hunger can even imagine. "Once again I knew hunger, biting hunger, hunger
that made my body aimlessly restless, hunger that kept me on edge, that
made my temper flare, that made my temper flare, hunger that made hate
leap out of my heart like the dart of a serpent's tongue, hunger that
created in me odd cravings" (119). Because hunger has always been a part
of Richard's lifestyle, he cannot even imagine eating meat every day.
This simple privilege would be a miracle to him, yet to most it is nothing.
These weakening and piercing hungers are frequently evident where poverty
dwells in the Jim Crow South.
Furthermore, emotional hunger also represses much of Richard's life.
Richard desires attention from people. However, since he does not
receive much of this at home, he does not really know how to associate
with others. This provokes a problem when he leaves home because he
cannot understand the friendliness of people around him. "Nevertheless, I
was so starved for association with people that I allowed myself to be
seduced by it all, and for a few months I lived the life of an optimist"
(178). Richard's home was mostly a hostile environment, therefore, in
addition to craving food he also yearns for love. Another thing that
contributes to Richard's emotional hunger the subject of blacks and whites.
"I wanted to understand these two sets of people who lived side by side
and never touched, it seemed, except in violence" (54). He viewed this
culture of justifiable torment as senseless, but dared not go against it.
Richard accepted this segregation, but never let the whites go too far in
the way they treated him. Richard desired to be able to speak his mind
and not be tormented by the whites. It was harder for him than others to
succumb to these ways, which is why he moved to the North. Oftentimes this
emotional state leads to loneliness and overwhelming grief.
Although all these hungers are very significant, the hunger for
education is the one that Richard has the hardest time enduring. Richard
is a very bright boy, yet nobody encourages him to learn because Negro
children of the Jim Crow South just did not grow up to be successful. In
fact, many blacks settled for ignorance and illiteracy. However, Richard
takes full advantage of the few opportunities he does encounter to learn
and read. "I hungered for the sharp, frightening, breathtaking, almost
painful excitement that the story had given me, and I vowed that as soon
as I was old enough I would buy all the novels there were and read them to
feed that thirst for violence that was in me, for intrigue, for plotting,
for secrecy, for bloody murders" (46). Richard passionately craves
reading, but his grandmother views these stories as devilish and forbids
him to read such things. Granny is very oppressive and the cause of much
his educational hunger. Moreover, many times Richard is unable to go to
school because they did not have enough money, not only for books, but
also for clothing to make him look "presentable." A greater part of his
education is not by way of formal schooling but learning through
experience. Richard is a very curious boy and wants to learn as much as
possible. Repeatedly, Richard asks too many questions of people around him,
inducing them to become annoyed. He gets very excited when he learns new
things. "...I had learned to count to a hundred and I was overjoyed....
I would read the newspapers with my mother guiding me and spelling out the
words. I soon became a nuisance by asking far too many questions of
everybody" (26). As someone stranded in a hot desert without water,
Richard's thirst for learning is never fully quenched.
Whether it be physical, emotional, or educational hunger that
Richard suffers through, all affect him significantly. However, this
strong and determined character of Richard Wright's Black Boy, succeeds
even with these famines. Now, as an adult living in the North, he has
surmounted these obstacles and consequently is stronger than most people.
The main reason he does survive is due to the great endurance he possesses.
Today, few people in our society would be able to survive through such