Black Boy


Black Boy Essay, Research Paper

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


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 four.

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


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 outside.

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