Black Boy: Chapter 18

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Richard befriends a Jewish man named Sol who had an article accepted for publication in The Anvil, and he is persuaded to attend a meeting of the John Reed Club of Chicago. He is welcomed by the white membership and given literature to read, which his mother finds at home. She is confused by a grotesque cartoon depicting communist revolution, and Richard decides it will be his role to bridge the gap between the communist ideals and the mainstream community that seems unable to grasp their point.  He lands in the middle of a factional fight and is elected to a position of leadership as a political pawn, but rather than resign, he attempts to use his power to protect a place for writers and artists. Trying to compromise, he pleases nobody, and soon is faced with a struggle of another dimension when an outsider who identifies himself as Comrade Young from Detroit publicly denounces a local member named Swann. Fearful that Young is acting on behalf of high communist officials, the other members hesitate to support Swann. Only after Richard finds himself embroiled in the conflict also, does he try to find out more about Young.  One night when Young does not show up at the club, Richard and a few of the members search through his belongings. They find an address and learn that Young is a patient at the Lunatic asylum in Detroit who had escaped but has been safely returned.  This news embarrasses the club members and they decide to drop all charges against Swann.

 

 

Analysis

 

Richard is again hopeful of finding a place in a community when he discovers the John Reed Clubs and is instantly accepted as not only a member but also a leader. He is uncomfortable being used as a political pawn, but is so sincere in his belief in the importance of a space for artists and writers that he keeps the position in order to advance the cause. However, as he is not himself a communist he is still plagued by issues of not belonging.  Despite his efforts to please the different contingents, he finds himself alone again, unable to satisfy any group or individual with his efforts at compromise. The incident with Comrade Young proves especially revealing, as the group members are quickly convinced to doubt their longtime comrade Swann by an individual who turns out to be insane. Richard’s rhetorical question of how this infiltration could have taken place suggests a weakness that will not be easily solved. Although he hopes to write in a way to convince the masses of the rightness of Communist ideology, his mother’s reaction to the magazine cartoon Richard brings home shows just how ambitious his goal is. Far from persuading the non-communist majority, Richard rightly suspects the fractions within the Party will make true unity an impossible challenge.

 

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