Black Boy


One main point of the United States Constitution was
missing from the Jim Crow South: equality. The Constitution
clearly states that "all men are created equal," but in the
Jim Crow era blacks were continuously persecuted for
something that would be acceptable in today's society. In
the early 20th century the South was a place of racial
prejudice, discrimination, and hate; blacks could be
punished for simply looking at a white person in the wrong
manner. Punishments included arrest, beating, even lychings
were a common part of the age. This is how life was while
Richard Wright was growing up; but in his autobiography
Black Boy we learn that despite his being a black boy in
the Jim Crow South, born on a Mississippi plantation, he is
eventually able to achieve success. Although independence
was a crucial factor that enabled Richard Wright to
succeed, his rebelliousness, intelligence, and perseverance
were also important contributing factors.
Richard Wright was an independent person by nature.
Throughout the book Richard never seemed to have an extreme
emotional attachment to anyone. It was as if he did not
need or want anyone's assistance or approval, except his
own. Ever since Richard was very young he was forced to be
independent. When he mother had her stroke, Richard was
forced to take charge and become the person of the house
and he would accept no one's help. "Though I was a child, I
could no longer feel as a child, could no longer react as a
child...When the neighbor's offered me food, I refused,
already ashamed that so often in my life I had to be fed by
strangers."(pg.97) While Richard was living at his Granny's
his independence really started to show through. All
Richard ever thought about was leaving to go to the North;
especially after being ridiculed for writing his story, The
Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre. No one supported him. He wanted
to be able to do what he wanted to, by himself. "I drea!
med of going north and writing books and novels."(pg.186)
Once Richard was on his own he felt free of the burden, of
other people's opinions that had tied him down his entire
Along with independence, his rebelliousness was another
beginning point of Wright's drive to make it in a white
man's world. The very first sign we see of the rebel in
Wright is when he is only four years old. Richard and his
brother are playing with a stray cat one day when his
father orders them to get rid of the cat because it is
making a lot of noise and Mr. Wright is trying to sleep, he
even remarks, "Kill that damn thing!" (pg.18) That is just
what Richard intends to do. He knows his father was just
speaking figuratively because he was upset, but Richard
also knows that if his father could not punish Richard
without risking his authority. A second point at which
Richard shows the rebellion in him was when he was about to
graduate from the ninth grade. Richard was chosen as
valedictorian of his class. As class valedictorian, Richard
was responsible for delivering a speech at his graduation,
to be held at one of the local public auditoriums. One day
shortly before! the graduation ceremony is scheduled to
take place Richard is summoned to the principal's office.
The principal hands Richard a speech he has prepared for
Richard to read. Richard has already written his one speech
and refuses to read the principal's work. When told that he
will not be allowed to graduate without abiding the
principal and reading his speech, Richard's reaction is:
"...this ninth-grade diploma isn't going to help me much in
life. I'm not bitter about it, it's not your fault. But I'm
just not going to do things this way." Again, Richard has
triumphed over an adult, this time simply by defying an
adult's decree and doing the right thing.
Being an independent and rebellious youth, Richard also
became a success due to his intelligence. Richard's
intelligence was not only acquired but also gifted. As a
very young boy without any formal education he already had
a real hunger for knowledge and desired to learn all, and
anything, he could. Richard's aptitude was first described
in Black Boy at the age of four. One morning Mrs. Wright
informed Richard that while she was at work coal that she
ordered was to be delivered to the house and that Richard
would be responsible for paying the man. When the coal man
arrived with the delivery, Richard gave him the money that
his mother had left. When the man asked how much change he
owed Richard, Richard replied that he did not know, he
could not count. So the man began to teach Richard to count.
"He counted to ten and I listened carefully; then he asked
me to count alone and I did. He then made me memorize the
words twenty, thirty, forty etc., then told me to add one,
two, three, and so on. In about an hour's time I had
learned to count to a hundred...when my mother returned
from her job that night I insisted that she stand still and
listen while I counted to one hundred. She was dumbfounded.
After that she taught me to read, told stories. On Sundays
I would read the newspapers with my mother guiding me and
spelling out the words."(pg.30)
Richard had not only learned to count in less than an hour
but he was also able to read the newspaper at the age of
His ability to persevere also guided Richard toward his
prosperity. There were many, many episodes in the life of
Richard Wright that would have slowed down or completely
halted most people; but not Richard himself. Richard was a
fighter and no matter was obstacle he faced, he knocked it
right down and continued. Like his characteristics of
rebelliousness and intelligence, the perseverance in
Richard's personality began at an exceedingly young age.
Richard was four (as he was when his rebelliousness and
intelligence were first discovered by the reader) when he
faced his first physical interference in life. Richard's
mother notified him that it would now be him job to do the
shopping. The first time he was to do the shopping on his
own, Richard set on his way with his basket on his arm.
When he reached the corner he was suddenly knocked down and
robbed by a gang of boys. Richard ran home and told his
mother. She sent him right back out again. This time the
boy's beat! him and again took his money. When Richard
returned home again his mother's reaction was not what he
expected. "Don't you come in here...You just stay right
where you are. I'm going to teach you this night to stand
up and fight for yourself....Don't you come into this house
until you've gotten those groceries."(pg.24) She handed
Richard some more money, and a stick, told him that if the
boys bothered him again to fight back and then she sent him
on his way. We the boys attacked him again Richard fought
back and sent them running home to their mothers. Richard
was taught perseverance by his mother, and that stuck with
him throughout his life as one of his top qualities.
To sum things up, the rebellious nature in Richard Wright
was a main reason why he was able to overcome his
background and become a successful writer. The fact that he
was independent, intelligent, and had sense of perseverance
also aided in his mastery. By reading Black Boy it becomes
clear to the reader how life can before not only a black
boy in the Jim Crow self but how vexatious it can be for
any pre-judged minority. Black Boy is able to teach readers
how-to and how-not-to treat people. The story of Richard
Wright will presumably teach someone who is racist that
there is no place in the world for racism. Richard is able
to show the reader that people all have the same feelings
and are as alike on the inside as they are different on the


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