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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Richard confronts his Aunt Addie, who teaches at the Seventh-Day Adventist church school. He also resists his grandmother's attempts to convert him to religious faith. And he writes his first story.
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Richard finds himself in a delicate position in Granny's household. He is a child and an uninvited one at that. He is also a nonbeliever. Granny even suggests that his disbelief is responsible for his mother's illness. In addition to the tension over religion, Richard is always hungry at Granny's. Meals usually consist either of mush with lard and flour gravy, or greens with lard.
Richard is forced to enter the Adventist religious school, and is taught by his Aunt Addie. He finds the pupils boring and docile. One day Addie accuses him of eating walnuts in class. She beats him brutally for this offense, which he didn't commit, and for calling her Aunt Addie instead of Mrs. Wilson. At home she is about to beat him again, but he fights back and threatens to use a knife. He feels that he has won a victory. Subsequently, Addie rarely even speaks to him.
Despite Richard's hostility to the strict religious environment around him, do you think that his upbringing in a religious home influenced him nonetheless? He writes of the sermons' vivid language, of religion's "dramatic vision" of a life always influenced by the thought of death, of its appealing sense of fate.
In an unpublished essay called "Memories of My Grandmother," Wright further supports the idea that religion had some positive influence on him. He criticizes his grandmother for her insensitivity to individuals and her loyalty to an abstract ideal. But he also says that her religious precepts taught him to live "beyond the world... to be in the world but not of the world (Wright's italics [on the words 'in' and 'of'])."
A family campaign begins, with the goal of converting Richard. Granny, Aunt Addie, and even his friends beg him to come to God. Richard has no intention of complying but does not want these people to hate him. One day he inadvertently embarrasses Granny in church. He tells her that he will convert if he sees an angel. Of course, he is confident that he will never see one. But she thinks he's saying that he has seen an angel, and she tells the other church members. She is deeply disillusioned when she finds out the truth.
Richard pretends to spend time praying but cannot. Instead, one day he writes a story about an Indian maiden and reads it to a girl next door. She is baffled by it, and he cherishes her perplexed reaction. Note that Richard writes this story in the aftermath of his family's attempt to convert him. Is this timing evidence that the religious teachings have influenced him after all, though, of course, not in a way that the family had intended? Has all the other-worldly religious talk helped him write this other-worldly story? Or, on the other hand, is his writing another result of his rebellion. Remember that his religious family thought fiction to be the work of the Devil. Knowing what you do about Richard, which interpretation do you favor?