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Black Boy

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Black Boy2

Black Boy, Richard Wright's autobiography, covers his childhood and early adulthood. It opens with four-year-old Richard's rebellion against authority, an important motif in Black Boy. At the time, Richard was restless and resentful of his mother's injunction of silence. Richard accidentally burned down his grandparents' house in his attempt to find something to occupy his time. After his mother determined that he was unharmed, she beat him so badly he lost consciousness.

When Richard and his brother were very young, Nathan Wright, their father, abandoned the family, plunging them into poverty. Richard's constant hunger made him extremely bitter toward his absent father. Over the next few years, Ella, Richard's mother, would desperately attempt to feed, clothe, and shelter her children. Her long hours of work often meant leaving her children with little supervision. When Richard was six years old, he began begging drinks in a nearby saloon where the customers plied him with nickels if he would repeat various curse words and offensive phrases. When beatings proved ineffective in breaking her son of his growing obsession with alcohol, Ella engaged the babysitting services of an older black woman in the neighborhood.

Ella moved in with her sister, Maggie, and Maggie's husband, Silas Hoskins. Hoskins was the proprietor of a successful saloon, so there was always more than enough food to eat. Nevertheless, Richard was unable to lose the fear that his hunger would return anew, so he hoarded food all over the house. Unfortunately, the newfound stability was not destined to last. The local whites were jealous of Hoskins's profitable business, so they murdered him and threatened to kill the rest of his family. Maggie and Ella fled with the two boys to live in another town. Maggie and Ella's combined wages proved adequate to feed and clothe Richard and his brother, but Maggie became involved with "Professor" Matthews, a wanted man. Ella and the children fled to the North after Matthews killed a white woman; Ella once again had to work alone to provide for herself and her children.

Ella's health began to deteriorate. Lacking rent money, she and her sons were forced to move several times. A paralytic stroke disabled her, so Richard was forced to write to his grandmother for help. Ella's siblings gave what help they could, but none of them could take on the responsibility for both of her children. Richard's grandmother took on the responsibility for caring for Ella.
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