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Andy Campbell Mrs.

Nogarr AP English 3, Period 6 September 17th, 2013 Independent Reading Assignment Title: Black Boy by Richard Wright Genre: Autobiography Historical Context: Mississippi, as well as most of America’s southern states, was under the spell of the Jim Crow laws in the 1920-30’s, which segregated and isolated and dehumanized AfricanAmericans. Richard Wright is one such victim of this discrimination, who has a dream of moving north to become a writer. Chicago, as well as many other major cities, suffers immensely when the Great Depression envelops the nation. Wright’s struggles are documented in the 1945 autobiography, Black Boy, which is composed of two parts; the first being Wright’s experiences will racism in the south, and the second Wright’s experiences with communism and the depression in the north. Protagonist: As an autobiography, the main protagonist is Richard Wright, the narrator. Wright reveals everything to the reader; whether he is proud of them or not. Richard is a timid, compassionate, intelligent, and modest individual. The reader sympathizes with Wright and wants him to succeed throughout his struggles. Wright becomes a very introverted and thoughtful man as he matures, and reveals his ability to analyze social, racial, and moral issues with his gifted observational power. Antagonist: Although there are no clear antagonists throughout the story, one could argue that society is the biggest adversary that Wright faces. His biggest struggle is to transcend society’s expectations of him, and to find meaning in his own life. He must overcome the issue of racism,

When the Great Depression swept the nation. and if it is even possible to destroy it without destroying the core of American culture itself. it is considered normal. Wright eventually moves to Chicago. His father abandoned his family when he was five years old. Wright maintained a vision of moving to the North and becoming a writer. Plot Summary: Richard Wright was born in 1908 on a small farm town in Mississippi. Wright resents his deprival of education. Although the church and school discouraged creativity and critical thinking. and his mother suffered a stroke that would leave her disabled the rest of her life. who enjoyed political and philosophi cal discussion. He exceeded in school. is drawn in by the passion of the party. He also struggles to understand why racism exists. Wright. graduating as valedictorian of his ninth grade year. where he encounters the Communist party. unstable childhood without any love or support. . he maintained a strong will to resist and question authority. This forced Richard to support for himself and have a rocky. Wright encountered harsh brutality and beatings from both his family and white people in the South. Wright was forced to work numerous and exhaustive jobs to support his family. which he considers his most important asset. he resents his community of both black and white people who are unwilling to accept him as he is. However. where he lives out his dream of writing. he often fought back against his oppressors. His desire to write biographies of other communists leads to the party’s distrust of him. and educate him. Even more prominent is Wright’s struggle to find purpose in his life.which is woven so deep into the fabric of American culture. often experiencing frightening encounters with racism. which had attracted many idealists in the nation’s fragile times. He rarely stayed in one place for than a year. His brief involvement ends in his disillusionment with the state of America and he ultimately spends the rest of his life in Paris.

neither white nor black culture is willing to accept Wright for who he is. While he remains distant from his community. his narration comes across as well-developed. he feels connected to them on a spiritual level. and articulate. He asserts that one must learn to forgive society. 3) Perhaps his most important message is forgiveness and compassion. but not just hunger in the literal sense. but also attempts to explain why it is so widespread in the roots of American culture.Key Themes: 1) Racism is a common theme in literature. Significant Literary Elements 1) Tone: Wright’s tone is definitely not light or conversational. prejudice. rigid structure of life that he is presented with as a black man. but also helps Wright come to his acceptance of his experiences and elimination of bitterness. but Black Boy explores it on a deeper level. Wright explains the natural hunger drive for knowledge. that you must show compassion even when you receive none. evil sea of fear. develops a realization that physical hunger is not nearly as important for the meanings of hunger listed above. He does not want to bend to the will of the public by filling in categories that society has placed upon him. thoughtful. which stems from his understanding and engagement with the world around him. Wright. 2) Another theme is hunger. and acceptance. to give life a more meaningful and satisfying purpose. as he matures. He considers it a dark. However. This not only helps the reader grasp a deeper understanding of racism. he doesn’t just explain why racism is bad. He desires to create a richer life for himself. doubt and ignorance. Wright rejects the push to conform by defying social customs. He rebels against the strict. This is done so the reader takes Wright . love. self-expression.

innocent mind of his younger self. this passage. For example. gutted. because Wright relates his childhood through the naïve. Whether or not Richard talks like this is unclear. fluid language. and strung up gaping and bloody" (Wright 8). One can relate to Wright’s childhood with ease with his illustrious. split open. dipped into boiling water. elephants (horses) with tall sticks (rifles). to help understand his actions easier. partly because as a child. which is part of a series of descriptive memories Wright has from his childhood. 3) Imagery: Wright’s language is a visual feast. he shares his exact thoughts on everything. This is done so the reader gets a sense of what thoughts young Wright had. perhaps this is done to create a sense of the isolation Wright felt growing up. . We do not learn much about other characters. scraped. is extremely graphic: "There was the speechless astonishment of seeing a hog stabbed through the heart. one usually only remembers the highly emotional events. black men were not supposed to be educated). Wright admits he is often told he talks like a book (in a demeaning way. For example. 2) Point of View: The reader gets to know Wright on a very deep level over the course of the book.seriously. Wright gives some insight into his writing process near the end of the book. in an experience where younger Wright encounters an approaching army of soldiers. which implies the level of effort to which he went to write this book. A brilliant device that Wright uses extensively in the first half of the book is point of view. However. Wright describes the approaching soldiers as he thought of them as a child. he talks about his frustration in expressing his feelings. as a source of authority. and his desire move the reader through the use of his language. Wright gets his point across with his vivid language.

He asserts that he never lost his sense of self.1) “At the age of twelve. because he kept alive the sense of wonder that is often hidden behind the daily struggles and drama of life. before I had had on full year of formal schooling. his curiosity and desire for knowledge. which he would maintain for the rest of his life. that could only keep alive in me that enthralling sense of wonder and awe in the face of the drama of human feeling which is hidden by the external drama of life. Although Wright lived a society that discouraged asking questions and education for people of his kind. a notion as to what life meant that no education could ever alter. He reasons that we must all make life significant in our own way. a reflection of Wright’s childhood. Wright still maintained the curiosity that he had at birth. a predilection for what was real that no argument could ever gainsay. It made me love talk that sought to answer questions that could help nobody. is of particular importance because it outlines the philosophy of coping Wright used to get through his childhood. who has had to endure countless acts of racial brutality and emotional damage. a conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering… It made me want to drive coldly to the heart of every question and lay it open to the core of suffering I knew I would find there.” (Wright 100 101). Wright. This passage. Wright illustrates many of his major ideas and beliefs here. . a sense of the world that was mine and mine alone. saying that life is only meaningful when one struggles to make it so. no matter how hard his superiors tried to repress it. Wright altruistically accepts that his struggles shaped him for the better and does not regret them. This passage also demonstrates an important characteristic of Wright. I had a conception of life that no experience would ever erase. justifies and accepts his struggle here.

this passage explains Wright’s views on his white oppressors. He attempts to bring this up with his parents. petty class rivalry. rumors. and social customs. Here. because they simply don’t know any better. Racism is not something innate. and conspicuous displays of cheap . he blindly accepts what he is taught without questioning and is told what to feel. He strongly believes in the promotion of critical thinking and the elimination of bias. As a child. intrigue. This passage comes after his family forces Richard to be baptized. He forces the bible upon anyone gullible. it represents the reasoning for Wright’s disillusionment of the church and religion. First. he had been carefully reared by his mother and father and he had always been told what to feel. 3) ”…skinny old maids who were constantly giving rallies to raise money. he feels that the priest is a hollow and futile man. Secondly. he never understood why white people were supposedly superior to black people.2) “Though older than I. without any explanation. Wright comes to the realization of the dangerous influence of social customs on up-bringing. s nobbery. and if a black child is told enough times that they are sub-human. the priest cannot think for himself. clannishness. Later. then they will begin to believe it. fear. gossip. it is built by years of isolation. he had neither known nor felt anything of life for himself. Wright does not blame the white people for their actions. This passage is significant in two ways. Wright is disgusted in the way that critical thinking is discouraged in the church. While he has good intentions.” (Wright 116). Wright discusses his thoughts on the priest. He cannot see why he must accept the evidence for God. That’s the way they were raised. but he is scolded from asking such questions. when there is none.

Wright is never fully able to satisfy the hunger for acceptance. it is a result of problems embedded in American culture that will . This theme of isolation is prevalent throughout his life. His greatest complaint is that his country is superficial and selfish. because while he cannot justify being someone he’s not just to be accepted by his new friends. the problem of racism does not lie entirely in the fault of one’s mind. qualities that result in intolerance and prejudice. This passage demonstrates the new struggle that Wright faced after encountering a new church. since it highlights his inability to understand why he cannot feel at peace. Wright. however. This presents a major dilemma to Wright. feels as though he cannot relate to his peers.clothing… I liked it and I did not like it. especially when he relocates to Chicago. They concern themselves over silly. According to Wright. asking myself what on earth was the matter with me. They do not grasp the rage. I had been kept out of their world too long ever to be able to become a real part of it. the passion. This hunger for acceptance provokes his hunger for understanding. even amongst his peers. Wright refers to the “adolescent” America and implies the country is too young. Rather. he states: "I walked home slowly. and emotions that Wright feels. Wright."(Wright 143). nor he theirs. why I never seemed to do things as people expected them. I longed to be among them. This shows some of the faults Richard finds in America. while at the same time feeling so far away from them. yet when with them I looked at them as if I were a million miles away. After one incident. Wright feels the longing to be a part of his new circle of fellow men and women. he also craves sociability. who had witnessed and been the victim of horrendous suffering.” (Wright 151). meaningless things. admits that he too shares these faults in character. The other African-American boys he comes across are never able to understand Wright and his attitude.

Everything that Wright encounters in the racially-fueled hate of the South tries to destroy him. he simply always had it in the back of his mind. it had no relation whatever to what actually existed. heading for a collision. It didn’t matter if his idealist vision of the North was true or not. Everyone tells him he will never amount to anything.take time to heal.” (Wright 169-169) This passage reveals the reasoning for Wright’s escape from the South. Yet. if it had not been for one important dream: the promise of a better life in the North. heedless of the warning red lights that blinked all about me. time after time. The North symbolized to me all that I had not felt and seen. He had always dreamed of becoming a writer. 4) “I dreamed of going north and writing books. without my knowing it. Wright becomes more and more introverted. and he believed the North was the first step in achieving it. novels. he always finds himself in life-threatening situations that he narrowly escapes. This ultimately leaves him empty of the love he so desperately needs. the sirens and the bells and the screams that filled the air. He would not have been able to get through it. His life is always teetering on the edge of disaster. by imagining a place where everything was possible. I kept hope alive i n me… Somewhere in the dead of the southern night my life had switched onto the wrong track and. and is never fully comfortable sharing his thoughts and opinions with others. the locomotive of my heart was rushing down a dangerously steep slope. it was the motivation he needed to continue pushing on. His metaphorrich description of his declining life in the south reveals his contrasting views of America: the . He admits that he doesn’t know where this idea originated.

But to feel that there were feelings denied me. This passage represents an important turning point in Wright’s life: his discovery of books. I had learned to live with hate. acting as both the motivation and the key to his life’s success. that more than anything else hurt. many had situations far worse than his. The more he fed his “hungers” with knowledge. which would become very helpful in his future. and having lots of free time. The books he read. Upon being forced into isolation. The books also greatly improved Wright’s literacy and vocabulary. and allow for him to capture a sense of the world for what it is. I could endure the hunger. Wright became increasingly introverted and moody during this time. He could not concentrate on his daily pursuits as clearly as before because he was too deeply enveloped in his literature. Although his intense appetite for knowledge often alienated him from others. he still considered it his greatest asset. the more ravenous those hungers would grow. I had a new hunger. .” (Wright 250). Each book enlightened him to a world in which he had no experience with. opened his eyes to the bigger picture. which included a vast range of genres. He devoured books. He gained an entirely new perspective on life and a new appreciation for his own. while the South represents all that is unjust and hateful. They gave him a meaning and direction in life.North represents all that is free and equal. 5) “I now knew what being a Negro meant. wounded me. and they began to take over his life. Wright found himself borrowing a friend’s library card to rent novels every week. that the very breath of life itself was beyond my reach. His discovered his suffering was not limited to himself.

offering insight into what Wright hoped to achieve with the writing of his book: to reorder his own past and come to understand himself. This is a significant moment in Wright’s life. he expresses growing anxiety over what should become of himself. he has grown to be captivated by the power of words and he strives to achieve the same level of skill in his own writing. Wright knows undoubtedly that he will devote his life to becoming a writer. to make them important by making them new. because as a child.” (Wright 280) This passage highlights Wright’s new sense of direction: the mastery of writing. He wants the reader to know the pain he endured. . Moreover. It gives the reader a vivid. He vows to make this is sole goal in life. Now. to make them melt into a rising spiral of emotional stimuli. Writing is his only escape from the cold.6) “I strove to master words. each feeding and reinforcing the other. fluid picture of words. That was the single aim of my living. a deeper understandin g of the world we live in. He writes both for his own benefit and the benefit of others. Wright mentions he wants to “drench the reader with a sense of a new world”. but for our benefit as well. to make them disappear. this passage outlines the outcomes Richard believes writing can accomplish. and he feels it is the only way he can express his passions and feelings effectively. to enlighten and to engage. and to feel the ideas that he possesses. not merely for his own sake. His use of imagery in describing the process of writing gives valuable insight into the role of the writer and Wright’s aspirations. alienating outside world. and all ending in an emotional climax that would drench the reader with a sense of a new world. this corresponds to his belief that reading opens one’s mind to a broader perspective. Having read hundreds of novels by different authors. each greater than the other.

This passage is important as it marks Wright’s first exposure to the party. although highly skeptical of the existence of god himself. after which he stands alone and rejected. but quickly becomes dissatisfied with their methods. but dislikes the radical methods they advocate. He wants to reclaim his disordered days not just for his own good. but lack a coherent and peaceful way to do so. but also so that other people can understand and accept what he experiences. The speaker is mocking those who believe in god in a childish manner. He will eventually get in trouble for questioning the party’s actions. 8) “I picked up a pencil and held it over a sheet of white paper. Humbly now. Wright finds himself briefly mixed up with the Communist party in Chicago. Well. but my feelings stood in the way of my words. they call for immediate action. with no vaulting dream of achieving a vast unity. That was not the way to destroy people’s outworn beliefs… They were acting like irresponsible children… I was now convinced that they did not know the complex nature of the Negro life. I would wait.” (Wright 297) This passage is referring to Wright’s reaction to a communist demonstration that he has overheard. I wanted to try to build a bridge of words between me and the world outside. Wright believes the communists are naïve. I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for . Wright would eventually regard these events as beneficial learning experiences. He admires the passion for change the communists possess. did not know how great the task to which they had set themselves was. that world which was so distant and elusive that it seemed unreal.7) “…I shook my head and walked away. day and night. As he continues his struggle to find his place in society. strongly objects to such methods of persuasion. Wright. until I knew what to say.

Wright shows his frustration with writing. he can help the reader to realize their own meaning in life. Wright has found meaning in his world that did not previously exist. I would send other words to tell. even if the readers do not resonate with his writing. to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human. Richard uses his words to connect with the outside world because everyone suffers from hunger in their lives at some point. to fight.” (Wright 383 -384). He is a writer and can express his beliefs and help other people learn the same values in life. and if an echo sounded. and that we must keep alive in our hearts a sense of ‘inexpressible human’. to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all. no matter how faintly. these last lines show Wright’s most important message: that we all hunger for life and equality. Most importantly. and how his experiences shaped him. These powerful and rich lines conclude the novel. His main goal is to challenge the world to move forward and encourage critical thinking. By showing the world where he came from. . Wright is stating that he can use his writing as a powerful way to express himself and his beliefs. it was a massive challenge to undertake. He tells us this to let us know his mastery of the English language was not easy. to march. often he cannot effectively express his feelings through words.an echo.