Black Boy: Chapter 14
Aunt Maggie’s husband has left her and she joins Richard’s mother and brother in scheming for them all to move to Chicago. During a visit to Memphis it is determined that she and Richard will go first and find a place to live, and that Richard’s mother and brother will then follow. Richard struggles with how to share the news with his boss and co-workers, and ultimately decides to tell them just before leaving that his mother is taking him against his will. Shorty envies him, saying he wishes he too could leave, but is too lazy and will likely stay operating the elevator until he dies or is killed. On a train the next day, Richard feels he is running away rather than toward something, but maintains the hope that the world of books will open to him in the North, and he welcomes the sense of unknown elsewhere yet recognizes the South is a part of him and thus cannot be left behind. He maintains his belief that he can live with more dignity, and embraces the continual struggle he hopes will lead him to such a life in reality.
After a life of estrangement from his family, Richard’s plans to relocate to Chicago with his mother, brother and Aunt Maggie suggest hope for reconciliation. These three represent his only positive familial relationships, and it seems fitting to conclude with their departure together for a different life up North. It is challenging for Richard to admit his own role in the decision, given the resistance of Southern whites to the black exodus that suggests their system’s inadequacy. His lie that he must move due to family obligations is an ironic insinuation given that his family has never offered him much. While they benefit socially from the subjugation of blacks in their community, they also benefit economically from their labor, so it is a complex relationship of dependence that Richard is leaving behind, hoping for a different dynamic in the legendary northern states. Chicago represents all that Memphis is not both to Richard and to his white co-workers, who dismiss his move and express their beliefs that life for him will be more difficult and less satisfying lest he think the opposite. It remains to be seen whether Richard will find the freedom he seeks, but as he states in the concluding sentence, for him, life is all about the struggle for success, and the process is of as much importance to him as the possible outcome.
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