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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 17

Summary

As Richard waits for his rations at the Relief station, he observes many black men and women talking animatedly. He is surprised to find them mingling with others and expressing their views. Richard wonders whether it could be the beginning of a revolution.

After Christmas, Richard takes up the temporary post of a clerk at the Post office. He renews his acquaintance with the Irish boy and talks to him about the happenings around the world. When the period of his employment at the Post office gets over, he is given a relief job at the Medical Research Center. For thirteen dollars a week, his job involves cleaning the rooms and the stairs and helping the doctors with their work. There are three other blacks employed at the Center. Richard finds nothing common with them, since his level of intelligence is far above theirs. Bill is almost his age but is drunk most of the time. Cooke and Brand are elderly men who never see eye to eye on any matter. Richard is curious to know about the reaction of the chemicals on the animals and hence, observes the doctors performing their experiments. However, when he asks them to clear some of his doubts, they put him off.

There are also many Jews working at the Medical Center. These Jews hold high positions of office. Some of them are doctors and some work as assistants. Once a Jewish boy comes to supervise over their work. He asks Richard to mop the floor of the room, in order to time it according to the wishes of the Director of the Center. Richard feels demeaning to follow his orders.


One day the peaceful life at the center is disturbed, when Cooke and Brand pick up a fight. They start arguing about the authenticity of the news that they read in the newspapers. What starts as an argument, soon turns into curses and then into blows. In their excitement, they run erratically and create disorder in the room. The cages get toppled, the animals escape and the room is in a mess. Richard and Bill smell danger and stop the fight. Then, closing the room, they start putting back the animals in their cages. The dead animals are dumped in the bins. Thus, they succeed in rearranging the room, before the doctors arrive. They are afraid that the doctors would detect their lapse but no one notices anything. Normalcy returns back and the boys are relieved. Richard wonders whether he should report the matter to the Director. However, when he remembers that the same doctor had ordered his work to be supervised, he turns antagonistic towards him.

Notes

This chapter is replete with symbolism. The Negroes waiting in line to get their rations are like the blacks waiting to secure their rights from the White Americans. Richard detects a spirit of rebellion in these men and women, when he observes them sharing their views with their fellow men. Richard is delighted to observe this change in the attitude of the blacks. He believes he can revolutionize the country and the plight of the Negroes, if he were given a chance to do so.

At the Medical Research Center, racial discrimination is rigidly followed. The menials like Richard and his three mates are posted in the underground of the building and segregated from the doctors and nurses residing in the upper stories. Like wild animals, the Negro workers are kept away from their masters. The white nurses and their black helpers also move in different lines.

The research at the Center involves experimenting with animals. Since animals like the dogs are bound to bark and howl during the experiments, their vocal chords are removed. Richard likens these animals to the Negroes who are tongue tied in front of their White oppressors and suffer silently.

The concluding lines of the chapter echo with symbolic connotations. In the words of Richard, "The hospital kept us four Negroes, as though we were close kin to the animals we tended, huddled together down in the underworld corridors of the hospital, separated by a vast psychological distance from the significant processes of the rest of the hospital - just as America had kept us locked in the dark under world of American life for three hundred years - and we had made our own code of ethics, values, loyalty." Richardís hurt feelings find expression in these poignant words.

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