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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Richard's mother has a stroke. Richard is sent to his Uncle Clark's, but he is unhappy there and insists on returning to his mother's.
Richard hangs out with the other black boys of the neighborhood. They talk about many things, but Wright emphasizes their conversations about whites. They talk about white folks' meanness and brag about what they will do to them. And they have vicious fights with the white boys who enter the black neighborhood.
Some readers think that Wright always remains aloof from the black community. But others point to this chapter, where Richard appears as an integral part of his peer group. Note that a major basis of their solidarity seems to be their need to defend themselves against whites.
Richard's mother becomes too ill to work. Richard has to take odd jobs, and the family, often unable to pay its rent, must move frequently from one part of town to another. One morning Richard awakens to find his mother paralyzed. She has suffered a stroke. In evaluating the aftermath of this catastrophe, you may find three things especially significant. First, note that Richard's mother seems to be the only person to whom he feels a strong emotional attachment. Her illness and possibly imminent death are devastatingly frightening to him. Second, note that, though Wright doesn't dwell on it, the response to his mother's illness suggests a strong community and family solidarity.
Richard has nightmares, and he sleepwalks. His brother is sent to live with Aunt Maggie in Detroit. Richard would have liked to go with Maggie, but, deprived of that possibility, he chooses to stay with Uncle Clark in Greenwood, because it is only a few miles from Jackson. His aunt and uncle give him food, clothing, and shelter but little affection. When Richard learns that another child died in the bed in which he is sleeping, fear keeps him awake at night. He insists on returning to Jackson.
In Jackson, his mother has an operation. Because there are no hospital facilities for blacks, friendly white doctors help smuggle her in and out wrapped in bandages. She shows no sign of improving, however. His mother's suffering becomes for Wright a symbol of all the pain and suffering of his life. Wright says that her illness set the emotional tone of the rest of his life, forever on the move and forever separate from other people. He says that it helped give him the conviction that he had to "wring" his life's meaning "out of meaningless suffering."
Wright's description of his future is also accurate as a description of his life after writing Black Boy. His wanderings continued. He left the United States for Paris, just as he had previously left the South for the North and Chicago for New York. In Paris he became an adherent of the philosophical school known as existentialism, an outlook on life that stresses the isolation and spiritual suffering of the individual and that places upon the individual the responsibility for creating the meaning of his own life.