Richard Wright and Black Boy

Richard Wright and Black Boy

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Richard Wright and Black Boy

One main point of the United States Constitution was missing from the
Jim Crow South: equality. The Constitution clearly states that "all
men are created equal," but in the Jim Crow era blacks were
continuously persecuted for something that would be acceptable in
today's society. In the early 20th century the South was a place of
racial prejudice, discrimination, and hate; blacks could be punished
for simply looking at a white person in the wrong manner. Punishments
included arrest, beating, even lychings were a common part of the age.

This is how life was while Richard Wright was growing up; but in his
autobiography Black Boy we learn that despite his being a black boy in
the Jim Crow South, born on a Mississippi plantation, he is eventually
able to achieve success. Although independence was a crucial factor
that enabled Richard Wright to succeed, his rebelliousness,
intelligence, and perseverance were also important contributing

Richard Wright was an independent person by nature. Throughout the
book Richard never seemed to have an extreme emotional attachment to
anyone. It was as if he did not need or want anyone's assistance or
approval, except his own. Ever since Richard was very young he was
forced to be independent. When he mother had her stroke, Richard was
forced to take charge and become the person of the house and he would
accept no one's help. "Though I was a child, I could no longer feel as
a child, could no longer react as a child...When the neighbor's offered
me food, I refused, already ashamed that so often in my life I had to
be fed by strangers."(pg.97) While Richard was living at his Granny's
his independence really started to show through. All Richard ever
thought about was leaving to go to the North; especially after being
ridiculed for writing his story, The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre. No
one supported him. He wanted to be able to do what he wanted to, by
himself. "I drea! med of going north and writing books and
novels."(pg.186) Once Richard was on his own he felt free of the
burden, of other people's opinions that had tied him down his entire

Along with independence, his rebelliousness was another beginning point
of Wright's drive to make it in a white man's world. The very first
sign we see of the rebel in Wright is when he is only four years old.

Richard and his brother are playing with a stray cat one day when his

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father orders them to get rid of the cat because it is making a lot of
noise and Mr. Wright is trying to sleep, he even remarks, "Kill that
damn thing!" (pg.18) That is just what Richard intends to do. He
knows his father was just speaking figuratively because he was upset,
but Richard also knows that if his father could not punish Richard
without risking his authority. A second point at which Richard shows
the rebellion in him was when he was about to graduate from the ninth
grade. Richard was chosen as valedictorian of his class. As class
valedictorian, Richard was responsible for delivering a speech at his
graduation, to be held at one of the local public auditoriums. One day
shortly before! the graduation ceremony is scheduled to take place
Richard is summoned to the principal's office. The principal hands
Richard a speech he has prepared for Richard to read. Richard has
already written his one speech and refuses to read the principal's
work. When told that he will not be allowed to graduate without
abiding the principal and reading his speech, Richard's reaction is:
"...this ninth-grade diploma isn't going to help me much in life. I'm
not bitter about it, it's not your fault. But I'm just not going to do
things this way." Again, Richard has triumphed over an adult, this
time simply by defying an adult's decree and doing the right thing.

Being an independent and rebellious youth, Richard also became a
success due to his intelligence. Richard's intelligence was not only
acquired but also gifted. As a very young boy without any formal
education he already had a real hunger for knowledge and desired to
learn all, and anything, he could. Richard's aptitude was first
described in Black Boy at the age of four. One morning Mrs. Wright
informed Richard that while she was at work coal that she ordered was
to be delivered to the house and that Richard would be responsible for
paying the man. When the coal man arrived with the delivery, Richard
gave him the money that his mother had left. When the man asked how
much change he owed Richard, Richard replied that he did not know, he
could not count. So the man began to teach Richard to count.

"He counted to ten and I listened carefully; then he asked me
to count alone and I did. He then made me memorize the
words twenty, thirty, forty etc., then told me to add one, two, three, and so on. In about an hour's time I had learned to count to a
hundred...when my mother returned from her job that night
I insisted that she stand still and listen while I
counted to one hundred. She was dumbfounded.

After that she taught me to read, told stories. On
Sundays I would read the newspapers with my mother
guiding me and spelling out the words."(pg.30)

Richard had not only learned to count in less than an hour but he was
also able to read the newspaper at the age of four.

His ability to persevere also guided Richard toward his prosperity.

There were many, many episodes in the life of Richard Wright that would
have slowed down or completely halted most people; but not Richard
himself. Richard was a fighter and no matter was obstacle he faced, he
knocked it right down and continued. Like his characteristics of
rebelliousness and intelligence, the perseverance in Richard's
personality began at an exceedingly young age. Richard was four (as he
was when his rebelliousness and intelligence were first discovered by
the reader) when he faced his first physical interference in life.

Richard's mother notified him that it would now be him job to do the
shopping. The first time he was to do the shopping on his own, Richard
set on his way with his basket on his arm. When he reached the corner
he was suddenly knocked down and robbed by a gang of boys. Richard ran
home and told his mother. She sent him right back out again. This
time the boy's beat! him and again took his money. When Richard
returned home again his mother's reaction was not what he expected.

"Don't you come in here...You just stay right where you are. I'm going
to teach you this night to stand up and fight for yourself....Don't you
come into this house until you've gotten those groceries."(pg.24) She
handed Richard some more money, and a stick, told him that if the boys
bothered him again to fight back and then she sent him on his way. We
the boys attacked him again Richard fought back and sent them running
home to their mothers. Richard was taught perseverance by his mother,
and that stuck with him throughout his life as one of his top

To sum things up, the rebellious nature in Richard Wright was a main
reason why he was able to overcome his background and become a
successful writer. The fact that he was independent, intelligent, and
had sense of perseverance also aided in his mastery. By reading Black
Boy it becomes clear to the reader how life can before not only a black
boy in the Jim Crow self but how vexatious it can be for any
pre-judged minority. Black Boy is able to teach readers how-to and
how-not-to treat people. The story of Richard Wright will presumably
teach someone who is racist that there is no place in the world for
racism. Richard is able to show the reader that people all have the
same feelings and are as alike on the inside as they are different on
the outside.
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