Black Boy: Chapter 11
Upon arrival in Memphis, Richard is invited to lodge with a Mrs. Moss who is immediately taken with him and expresses her ardent hope that he will marry her daughter, Bess. Taken aback by her directness and both of their openness with a relative stranger, Richard rejects their advances. Having resisted becoming close with people his whole life, Richard struggles to maintain a distant friendship with his landlady and her daughter, who he considers childish and dull though denies the accusation to her face when she attempts to seduce him one night. The next day, sitting on the dock, Richard is approached by a black man around his own age who suggests they sell some bootleg liquor in the underbrush. A white man mysteriously appears and offers them $5 to move it to his car, which Richard is hesitant to do but agrees because his new friend is eager to accept. However, when the black man fails to return with “change,” he realizes the two were working together, and he sees a similarity between Bess’s naïveté and his own.
The contrast between Richard’s oppression in the small towns in which he has spent most of his life and his feeling of freedom in Memphis is immediately apparent. Many other contrasts are drawn between his past and future at this turning point in his life. While he has until this point felt despair and isolation, he is beginning to feel hopeful and even to connect with human beings around him. His family’s distrust and cruel treatment of him make the Moss’ immediate acceptance and liking of him even stranger, and Richard cannot understand their simple openness that so strikingly contrasts with his own ways of approaching the world around him. Bess’s declaration of love is abruptly followed by a declaration of hate when Richard does not reciprocate her feelings, and he is baffled by people who can express such strong sentiments, especially just after meeting. He dismisses Bess as innocent and childlike, only to find himself duped the next day by the black man and his white colleague who use Richard to move some illegal liquor. The proximity of these events does not seem to be coincidental. Rather Richard Wright seems to be making a point about the city and its inhabitants, who can quickly rise or fall, be welcomed or taken advantage of, all depending on their own willingness to see things simply or to resist ready explanations to analyze their circumstances for themselves.