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Free Barron's Booknotes-Black Boy by Richard Wright-Free Online Notes
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_____ 1. Richard sets fire to

A. his house
B. a white man's house
C. his neighbor's house

_____ 2. Granny often speaks of

A. God
B. the books she reads
C. her love for her grandchildren

_____ 3. Richard accepts baptism

I. to avoid humiliation
II. to please his mother
III. to please God

A. II and III only
B. I and III only
C. I and II only

_____ 4. Richard leaves his first job with an optical company because

A. he finds a better job
B. the work is too demanding
C. the other employees threaten him

_____ 5. In Memphis, Richard discovers

A. the Communist Party
B. the works of H. L. Mencken
C. the woman of his dreams

_____ 6. Richard thinks that the principal of his school is a

A. genius
B. madman
C. coward

_____ 7. Uncle Hoskins is killed by white people who

A. envy his business
B. mistake him for someone else
C. think he is a Communist

_____ 8. When Richard's father deserts his family,

A. Richard tries to convince him to come back
B. the family must get by with little to eat
C. Richard's mother takes a lover

_____ 9. Richard's first published story is called

A. "Big Boy Leaves Home"
B. "The Man Who Lived Underground"
C. "The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre"

_____ 10. When Uncle Tom tries to beat Richard, the boy

A. slits his attacker's throat
B. threatens him with razor blades
C. bursts into tears

11. Is Black Boy more an indictment of Southern racism or an account of a writer's development? Explain.

12. What positive and what negative lessons does Richard learn from his fellow blacks?


1. A
2. A
3. C
4. C
5. B
6. C
7. A
8. B
9. C
10. B

11. Certainly the later chapters of the book focus on Richard's experiences with white racists. But even the earlier portions touch on the theme of racism. Uncle Hoskins' death is more than just a shocking example of racist violence. It also changes Richard's life by depriving him of the stable home and economic prosperity that he was beginning to enjoy. The book's conclusion confirms that its subject is racism: Richard flees the South because he can no longer endure its discriminatory practices.

On the other hand, Wright directs much of his criticism against his own family and his fellow blacks. Many of the hardships of his early life stem from his grandmother's strictness. Even before Richard's writing ambitions develop into an explicit theme, he is using words in a rebellious way. You could argue that many of the obstacles he encounters would be set in the way of any sensitive and critical individual who questions society's codes. In addition, you could say that the ending of Black Boy confirms that Wright's development into a writer is the book's central theme. After all, he does not leave the South until he decides upon his career.

12. Wright is often critical of his fellow blacks. He learns from them how not to act. For example, he learns to avoid his father's irresponsible sexual affairs. He rebels against religion. He decides not to follow the principal's compromising path to a position of professional responsibility. He doesn't want to play the buffoon in front of whites as Shorty does or even to defer to whites like his other friends do. On the other hand, he is fascinated by the biblical stories he hears in his family's church in much the same way as he is drawn to the story of Bluebeard. In addition, he may have acquired his stubborn insistence on following his own path from his grandmother's equally strong determination to do what she thinks right even when the rest of the world is doing something else. His mother's ability to endure suffering may have inspired him to persevere even in the face of adversity. Finally, some of his friends teach him how to survive in the white world and, although he may not entirely like their lessons, he heeds them in order to cope with life.

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