The Importance of Language in Richard Wright’s Novel, Black Boy

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The Importance of Language in Richard Wright’s Novel, Black Boy



Words are powerful things. They can be used to construct or destruct. In the novel Black Boy, Richard Wright discovers this fact after reading inspirational works written by a man named Mencken. It is at this point in his life where he understands the importance of words. Wright qualifies the idea that language is an important key to identity and social acceptance using figures of speech and warrants.

A rhetorical technique used by Wright is this passage is that of metaphors. For example, when describing Mencken’s effectiveness he uses phrases such as “he was using words as a weapon.” This simile conveys to the reader just how powerful the new experience was for Wright. Richard wondered if he would ever be able to create something so significant. Although the idea seemed frightening at first, Wright was able to fight using his words in the end. In addition, to extend the metaphor of words being weapons, the language on the page is so full of disgust that Wright imagines Mencken had “slash[ed] [it] with his pen.” This image gives convincing evidence that Mencken was extremely irate with his society. His sword is the pen and his words are the blow. Those who are witness to this ‘duel’ are those who are effected by its cuts. Readers begin to realize just how important language is to identity and beliefs.

Richard Wright utilizes evidence to create an ethos appeal for his readers. For instance, he doubts his literary choice once he reads the title of the book given to him: Prejudices. In his personal experience those that had spoken this word were not entirely right, according to him. He toys with the idea that this man (Mencken) is mistaken; he, himself, looked to have been mistaken. Wright made an unjustified conclusion about this writer judging by the single word on the cover of a book. If one word could bring up such emotion from this boy, imagine what a whole slew of these words would create in their wake. Mencken was not accepted by his race due, impart, to his beliefs.

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However, he was rejected to a greater extent when the words of his mind were written. The experiences Wright depicts build the foundation of his credibility.

Often in society, language is used to express individuality and make or break a person when it comes to their social acceptance. In Black Boy Richard Wright cleverly discovers and qualifies the importance of language at a young age. He passes his wisdom on to us, the readers, to make the decision for ourselves.


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