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Free Study Guide-Black Boy by Richard Wright-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 12

Summary

Walking aimlessly on the streets of Memphis, Richard hits upon the idea of seeking employment in an optical company. With this object in mind, he looks through the directory to find the address of a good optical company. Soon, he meets the owner of the company, who employs him but does not promise to teach him the skill of the trade. Richard accepts the job, though the salary is lower than what he was getting in the hotel. He starts working earnestly and soon adjusts himself to the surroundings. He gets used to working in the midst of White men. He also becomes friendly with the black workers and shares his lunch with them. He learns to earn extra money by providing services to the White officers. Thus, he establishes himself in Memphis.

Richardís ordered life experiences tremors, as he encounters problems both in the house and at the work place. At home, Mrs. Moss pesters him to befriend Bess. When her nagging becomes unbearable, Richard threatens to move out of the place. Mrs. Moss and her daughter apologize for their behavior and promise never to bother him again. Amongst the black employees in the company, there is a boy called Shorty. Shorty is a southern Negro, with the complexion of Chinese. Richard does not have a good opinion of Shorty, as he is willing to get insulted by the whites in order to get a quarter from them.

At the work place, he meets a customer who detects hunger on his face and offers him a dollar to have lunch. Richard feels ashamed to accept the truth and hence, refuses to take the money. Shortly afterwards, his foreman, Mr. Olins, meets him and provokes him to pick up a fight with Harrison, a Black boy working in a rival optical company. Richard meets Harrison face to face. As they talk, they realize that Mr. Olin is trying to create animosity between them. They both reach an understanding, but Mr. Olin does not leave them alone. He forces them to challenge each other in a boxing ring, by bribing them with five dollars. Richard falls into the trap, much against his will, and encounters Harrison on the field. As they face each other, they get into the mood of fighting. At the end of the match, they are both physically and morally wounded.


Notes

Richard establishes his identity in Memphis. He chooses to work in an optical company rather than in a hotel because he considers the former to be more suitable and respectable. Once he sets his objective, he goes about fulfilling it. He looks for the addresses of Optical companies and decides to meet the owner of one of them. At the meeting, he convinces his boss about his abilities and acquires the job. As soon as he starts working in the firm, he finds means to make extra money for his pocket expenses. He does odd jobs and runs errands for the White officers to earn enough to feed himself every day. He decides to deposit the money left after the trip to Memphis and part of the salary that he will be earning, in a bank so that he can use it for his journey to Chicago. He lives on bare minimum and sends money to his mother. Thus, Richard learns to survive in a world dominated by the Whites.

Along with making money, Richard starts fulfilling his creative needs too. He buys old magazines and journals and after reading them, sells them. He also manages to get hold of the morning newspaper from the Negro porter, before it is circulated around. Thus, he gets to read the news free of charge.

Happiness to Richard does not come in full measure. Though he establishes his career in Memphis and orders his life in a set pattern, he encounters problems at home and in the work place. Mrs. Moss, the simple and kind landlady is sympathetic towards Richard but tries to force him to marry her daughter. She thus, starts nagging him to befriend Bess and puts him in an awkward position. When he is able to take it no more, he decides to shift his lodgings. However, Mrs. Moss and Bess apologize and Richard stays back.

At the workplace, just when Richard starts feeling secure, Mr. Olin creates trouble for him. The foreman befriends Richard only to start a misunderstanding between the boy and Harrison, a black worker in a rival optical company. In the beginning, Richard gets carried away by the words of Olin. However, he later decides to confront Harrison. Thus, he meets the other boy and resolves the matter, though he is shocked to realize that the foreman was trying to disturb the peace of the Negro community by creating animosity between the two of them. In the firm, he tries to ignore the words of Olin and remain unaffected but all his efforts prove to be unsuccessful. The foreman arranges a boxing match between the two and lures them to participate in it by bribing them with five dollars each. Richard shows no interest in participating in the match, but Harrison wants to earn five dollars. Thus, they face each other as opponents and beat up each other in the process. After the match, they avoid each other. Richard feels defeated and hates himself for giving in to the whims of a White man. Richard feels ashamed that, like Shorty, he has let somebody use money to take advantage of him.

The chapter exposes the nature of the white officer and his bitter hatred for the blacks. Mr. Olin has the reputation of an honest and friendly worker in the firm. However, he hides other intentions beneath his respectability. He creates conflict between two innocent black youths and derives sadistic pleasure by seeing them as opponents in the boxing ring. Just to assert his racial superiority, he shatters the peace of Richard and Harrison and puts fear in their hearts. He uses them as pawns to satisfy his ego. However, by creating insecurity in the lives of these Negroes, he exposes his own insecurity in the world.

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