Richard Wright’s “Big Boy Leaves Home” addresses several issues through its main character and eventual (though reluctant) hero Big Boy. Through allusions to survival and primal instincts, Wright confronts everything from escaping racism and the transportation (both literal and figurative) Big Boy needs to do so, as well as the multiple sacrifices of Bobo. Big Boy’s escape symbolizes both his departure from his home life and his childhood. Big Boy, unlike his friends, does not have a true name. This namelessness drives his journey, and Big Boy is constantly singled out in one way or another. The moniker ‘Big Boy’ is a contradiction—is he a large boy or is he a grown man?—and drives all of Big Boy’s actions. Throughout the story he hinges between childhood and adulthood, and his actions vary depending on which side he falls on at that exact moment.
The underlying theme of escaping to freedom is first introduced when the boys begin singing a gospel song when they hear a train.
“Dis train boun fo Glory/ Dis train, Oh Hallelujah/…Ef yuh ride no need for fret er worry/ Dis train, Oh Hallelujah (…) When the song ended they burst out laughing, thinking of a train bound for Glory. ‘Gee, thas a good ol song!’ ‘Huuuuummmmmmmmmman…’ ‘Whut?’ ‘Geee whiiiiiiz…’ ‘Whut?’ ‘Somebody don let win! Das whut!’ Buck, Bobo and Lester jumped up. Big Boy stayed on the ground, feigning sleep. ‘Jeesus, tha sho stinks!’”
Though the boys sing together, the words of the song have a different meaning for each. The train, which Wright mentions on several occasions, is a reminder of the trip they will all take to the afterlife. For everybody but Big Boy, this ascension to Glory comes sooner tha...
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...around the death of his friend, causing Big Boy to face the harsh reality that white people are murderous, no matter their sex. Big Boy cannot retain his innocence because after the death brutal murder of Bobo, he “had no feelings now, no fears. He was numb, empty, as though all blood had been drawn from him.”
Richard Wright’s “Big Boy Leaves Home” confronts a young black person’s forced maturation at the hands of unsympathetic whites. Through his almost at times first person descriptions, Wright makes Big Boy a hero to us. Big Boy hovers between boyhood and adulthood throughout the story, and his innocence is lost just in time for him to survive. Singled out for being larger than his friends, he is the last to stand, withstanding bouts with white men, a snake, and a dog, as we are forced to confront the different levels of nature and its inherent violence.
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