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Free Barron's Booknotes-Black Boy by Richard Wright-Free Online Notes
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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER V

Richard gets a job selling newspapers but quits when he finds that the newspapers espouse racist views. Later, his grandfather dies.
* * *

Granny and Aunt Addie have given up on Richard. He returns to public school, where he proves himself to the other boys by fighting with the school's toughest bullies. This schooling is his first opportunity for uninterrupted study, and he does surprisingly well. In two weeks he is promoted from fifth to sixth grade. But he cannot fully mingle with his classmates because of his grandmother's religious objections to his working on Saturdays. With no spending money, he has to stand apart at lunch time, and he lies about his reasons for not eating. Note Richard's desire to be part of a group and his inability to fulfill that desire.

A friend suggests that he sell newspapers in the evenings. By doing so, he earns some spending money, and he also reads the horror and adventure stories in the paper's magazine supplement. But a friend of the family shows him that the newspaper itself is violently racist. Richard is shocked because the papers come from Chicago, the city to which many Southern blacks are fleeing. The friend tells Richard that he has been selling Ku Klux Klan literature, and Richard gives up his paper route. Racism has again affected Richard's chances for happiness.


NOTE:

The Ku Klux Klan is a racist group founded after the Civil War. Its purpose was to restore white supremacy in the South, where, for a while, blacks were beginning to attain some political power. Later the group continued its anti-black agitation and violence, while also opposing other nonwhite groups, as well as Jews and immigrants.

During that summer Richard has another nearly violent confrontation with Addie. He threatens her with a knife. Looking back, Wright comments that instead of bringing peace, the religion of his home seemed to cause constant strife.

Richard gets a summer job accompanying an agent on his trips to sell burial insurance to sharecroppers (tenant farmers). He realizes how worldly and urban he is compared to the sharecroppers. Already, Wright has a sense of the distance between himself and the world of his roots, a distance that will only grow deeper as he grows older. In this section Wright seems to find nothing of value in the lives of rural Southern blacks. They are "a bare, bleak pool" of people who are all "alike." (Passages like this one have been criticized by Baldwin, Ellison, and others who feel that Wright was not sympathetic enough to the vitality of black community life.)

Richard's grandfather dies. Although he had fought in the Civil War, he had been denied a pension because his discharge papers had misspelled his name. For the rest of his life he had tried and failed to have this mistake corrected.

Richard threatens to leave home if he can't work on Saturdays. Under that threat, his grandmother relents, and his sick mother is pleased that he has defied his grandmother and aunt. Note the continuing importance of Wright's mother. His rebellion is not directed at her and in fact seems to have her approval.

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