Black Boy by Richard Wright
Length: 1387 words (4 double-spaced pages)
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Analyse the process through which Richard becomes independent and highlight your observations through judicious textual references which capture the power of Wright's narrative style.
This novel focuses on the struggle for identity of a young black boy in the Deep South. It is a powerful testament of his life. In this novel, Wright uses writing to free himself from the prejudice he is constantly facing, gradually he find that writing allows him to explore new ideas and expand his imagination, not only this, but Wright discovers through self realisation that he faces a need to write in order to break out from the constraining world of race, religion and family.
Throughout his life, Richard faces the need for a loving family to help and encourage him, but his family in a way, unknowingly help to form his independence. Throughout his youth, he faces the need to be independent, for instance regarding his negligent father who appears to despise Richard. Richard's father even decides to abandon the family after he has an affair with another woman in order to live with her and form a new family. When the parents are facing each other in court over financial issues, Richard expects his father to be humble, perhaps even ashamed but his father acts confidently and wins the approval of the court. 'It had been painful to watch my mother crying and my father laughing.'' The mother was in a state of emotional turmoil, yet the father still did not support her. Richard's father is a pathetic example to Richard of a man who has responded to the struggle of being black by drinking and womanizing. Richard's mother on the other hand, could be considered a much better role model for him. She forces him to fight back when he feels people are being unjust towards him, she teaches him to be a fighter, for instance, when he is beaten and the grocery shopping money is continuously taken from him, his mother simply reacts by giving him a stick and telling him If these boys bother you, then fight.'' She tries to make him tough and independent because she feels that this is the only way he can survive.
Richard is often disciplined through the church and religion through his grandmother and his mother. At moments he is very close to being pulled-in by religion. 'While listening to the vivid language of the sermons I was pulled towards emotional belief, but as soon as I went out of the church and saw the bright sunshine and felt the throbbing life of the people in the streets I knew that none of it was true and that nothing would happen.
'' This quote shows how non-easily influenced he is, how he does not feel the need to agree with others just so that he can fit-in. Because he refuses the church, his grandmother brands him as a sinner who will send the entire household to hell. His aunt Addie, who teaches him religious class at one point, goes as far as using him as an example to the class of 'a sinner.'' His independence is shown through his refusal of religion because even though he listens to it, he feels that is ridiculous. The reader gets the impression that he feels as if those who are religious have simply been 'brain-washed.''
The social difference of the Black and the White society dominates the novel. Richard is constantly beaten both physically and mentally by White people who feel that they as White people have the right to treat him like a nobody. For instance, when Richard works in an optical shop in Jackson, and he feels that he has the opportunity to learn the trade, the other two men who are working there refuse to teach him the trade. They harass Richard into leaving him job by threatening him with physical violence and trying to break his spirit Nigger you think you'll ever amount to anything? .. If I was a nigger, I'd kill myself.'' These two men torture Richard for their own personal amusement until one afternoon where he is almost killed and he briskly leaves the job. It is at this same place though, that he meets the first White man who has ever shown him any kindness. This man is Mr Crane, the owner of the optical shop. Mr. Crane genuinely cares about Richard and the way he has been treated. 'I'm awfully sorry about this.'' This is when Richard realises that there are certain white people who do not try and make the Black's feel inferior. Richard is very independent regarding his views towards white people. As I've shown, with the examples given, Richard has shown anger towards racist comments and he refuses to be treated as part of an inferior race. He has played an important part in Black history.
When Richard is very young, the reader can already tell that he is unlike the majority of the other Black boy's of his time. He is passionate and yearns to read and write. He is hungry for knowledge and making the world a better place. He learns to be independent from a young age because of his poverty and loneliness. When Richard becomes associated with a daring, threatening group of communists, he decides to rebel against them even though he is alone and he knows that they will try and fight him. He reads and studies the issues brought up by the party in order to be fully aware of what is going on. The party does not always accept him, and they even fear his boldness but he continues to support them, this shows that he is loyal. Richard is the independent member of the party, the only one who is willing to share his real thoughts and say when he feels that a comment made by another member is ludicrous, he says what he feels even if it means that in the end, he will be standing alone.
Violence is a big part of Richard's thunderous life. The reader is first shown the violence that Richard faces at the beginning of the novel where Richard is 'lashed so long and hard I lost consciousness. I was beaten out of my senses and later found myself in bed, screaming, determined to run away. I was lost in a fog of fear.'' This is a shocking and disturbing passage which signals to the reader that there is more violence to come. With his 'gang'' he must fight to prove his strength and to fit in, likewise at his school. His aunt Addie beats him, choosing to do it in front of his schoolmates in order to ridiculise and humiliate him. He chooses to belittle her though and to threaten her with a knife. If he was not such an independent person, he would have shattered by the unjust accusations made by Aunt Addie. It's the same story with Uncle Tom, who he threatens with a razor blade. His whole life, he has to fight with people. The white people in the novel find it hilarious to see the Black's fighting. For instance when Mr. Olin tries to turn Richard and another young Black man Harrison against each other for amusement. Surprising, Richard goes through with the fight, even after finding out that it was all a lie, simply for the money. Of course, afterwards as a consequence he feels dirty and ashamed. Richard's independence is formed also by the violence that he is constantly facing.
In conclusion, Richard becomes independent from a very young age. He realises that he cannot always rely on other people. There are moments in the novel were Richard is so hungry that his mother begs him to go to his father and ask for money. But his stubbornness does not allow him to do this. There are moments in the novel where his struggle and need for independence are mistaken for 'sassiness'' and 'rudeness'' but they accusations could not be more wrong. He would rather earn his own money, he does not feel the need to always be asking others for help, he realises that often one is alone in life, but he also realises that it is not so awful to be alone when you can think clearly for yourself.