Wright's Black Boy: A Journey Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Here we see Richard is learning the importance of priorities. He is learning what it means to sacrifice. These choices, however, help him reach an ideal he has in his mind of who he wants to be. He wants to understand things because he feels he has something worth saying. At the end of the day, Richard wants to write. To write anything meaningful, one must know his world and his place in it. This type of contemplation alone sets Richard apart from many in his environment because they cannot read. In addition, it sets him apart because he does not think of himself like a "black boy" the way the rest of his community does. This is directly related to his sense of self and his desire to discover who he is. This includes reading and writing. Even in the title of the book, Wright brings attention to the fact that Richard is just a black boy and while this would be reason for some not to try, it proved to be nothing of the sort for Richard.

Richard is unique in that he does not allow the world to beat him down. So often, people are told they cannot do something for one reason or another. Too often, they accept these words as fact instead of doing what they want to do to defy the odds and live life on their own terms. Richard is different and believes somehow anything was "possible, likely, feasible, because I wanted everything to be possible" (83). He also realizes that he cannot control the outside world but he can control himself. His world is barren, so he uses his imagination to realize possibilities. He allows himself to be hungry so he never forgets what it is he is searching for in the world. This is a difficult thing for one to do. However, since he learned to do stave off hunger in a variety of ways at an early age, Richard becomes quite good at it. One of the most compelling aspects of Richard's growth in the novel revolves around his refusal to be continually beaten down by a societal system. He understood, like other African-Americans around him, that he was part of an oppressed group of individuals. The difference with Richard is that he is looking for a way to make that system work for him. He refuses to believe that an African-American cannot have a successful, satisfying life -- or at the very least, a life different from the ones he witnessed growing up. He wanted to be his own man and while he was not clear on what this meant, he knew it had to be more than a subservient individual, grateful for anything anyone would give him. Richard is not afraid to find his own way in the world. While younger children often look to their elders for guidance and support, Richard does just the opposite. His grandmother and Addie give up on him, telling him "they were dead to the world . . . From urgent solicitude they dropped to coldness from hostility" (143). It is worth noting that his mother still does encourage him to study and "make up for squandered time" (143). He follows this advice and is promoted from the fifth grade to the sixth. He goes to school dressed in rags and hungry feeling his "life depended not so much upon learning as upon getting into another world of people" (143). His search leads him away from home and into places he did not know but the search was something our young protagonist knows he must do to know himself.

Racism becomes an integral aspect of Richard's life because it shapes almost every situation in which he finds himself. However, he sees it differently than most. He comes to see that racism and the oppression of African-Americans is a problem with both races. He also learns at an early age that...
...He knows "negroes had never been allowed to catch the full spirit of Western Civilization, that they lives somehow in it but not of it" (43). To fully understand this idea, he writes, "My life as a Negro in America had led me to feel . . . that the problem of human unity was more important than bread, more important than physical living itself" (374). Here we see Richard experiencing the plight of poverty across the masses. The world is more than just him and he has been wrong to think his situation, his life, is isolated. He resists feeling and behaving like an animal and he admits to "keep humanly alive through transfusions from book" (374). He encounters conflicts that arise when an individual attempts to be an individual in a society that attempts to make that individual one of the masses. Furthermore, society operates under certain conventions that make it literally impossible for an African-American to seek out individuality. As a result, Richard seems to bump heads with either a white society that wishes to transform him into something he does not want to be or an African-American society that wants him to blend in with all the other Black me and choose a subservient life. Neither of these choices is acceptable for Richard and he spends a good amount of time defying certain conventions when he can. From his early experiences with his grandmother to his experience with the Communist Party, he is willing to take nothing in exchange for his sense of self. Richard's interest in the Communist Party is significant to his development because he encounters the same type of attitude he does from some white men in the South. At first, he has hope for his involvement with them. He knows they Party is not perfect and he realizes the Communists had a "program, an ideal, but they had not yet found a language" (377). He also realized that the Party "oversimplified the experience of those whom they sought to lead . . . they missed the meaning of the lives of the masses" (377). Richard does not see this as a lost cause, however, and decides he can help them with his writing. He would make "voyages, discoveries, explorations with words and try to put some of that meaning back" (377). These people, who seem to be looking out for the people attempt to tell him what to say and how to act. They threaten him with expulsion from the party if he does not comply with their wishes. They do not understand him. In short, he does what he feels is the only thing he can do, which is leave the party. The accusation of being an intellectual offends him and he steps away from them altogether. He realizes they are "did not know anything and did not want to know anything" (389). Just before the trial, He begins to see how the Party had "did not recognize the values that it had sworn to save when it saw the; the slightest sign of any independence of thought or feeling, even if it aided the party in its work, was enough to brand one as a dangerous traitor" (438). For them, all of the questions had been asked and had answers already and Richard posed a threat to their safe community. The act is something that causes him some distress, however, because it pulls him away from his connection with humanity. Once again, he feels as though he is on the outside of something rather than within a group, doing well. He follows his intuition with this circumstance. This is important in understanding Richard, as we see an aspect of his character that has developed throughout Black Boy. Richard's discovery has been fraught with disappointment and painful realizations but they have not stopped him from doing what he knew he wanted to do as a small boy. His adventures have proven to him that the world is and will always be imperfect and the best one can do is attempt to find the beauty in it. He realizes that he can help other find that beauty with words.

The third aspect of the novel that is worth noting is Richard's seemingly innate desire to become a writer. This desire is sparked with the act of reading. When Ella reads to him, Richard is cognizant of the transformation that is occurring inside him. While reading to him "reality changed, the look of things altered, and the world became peopled with magical presences. My sense of life deepened and the feel of things was different" (45). This early encounter with fiction would never leave his mind and Richard knows this as his grandmother steps up and demands Ella leave because non-religious books are the "Devil's work" (46). He vows that when he is old enough, he will "buy all the novels there were and read them…

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Works Cited

Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Harper Perennial 1993. Print.

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