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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
Richard Wright narrates the story of his life in three stages in order to trace his growth as an individual and as a writer. The first stage covers his childhood and adolescence in Memphis, West Helena and Jackson respectively. The second stage covers his later adolescence, when he is on the threshold of a new life. The third stage covers his adult life in Chicago. The first stage of the autobiography begins from Chapter I and portrays Richard at the age of four. Full of energy and curiosity, Richard hates to be confined within the four walls of the house. Thus, angry with his mother, he develops a strange curiosity to light the curtains and see them burn. His prank results in disaster and he is punished for it. This incident throws light on his personality and attitude. Time and again, he resents authority and unjust criticism and lands himself in trouble. However, he overcomes the hurdles on his way through sheer determination and clears nine grades in school. The end of the tenth chapter shows Richard turning his back on hunger and poverty by leaving Jackson for Memphis.
Chapter XI ushers the second stage of the autobiography. At the age of seventeen, he settles down in a paying guest accommodation in Memphis and gets employed in a reputed Optical company. He pursues his hobby of reading by browsing through the newspapers and absorbing the contents of books borrowed from the library. Richard has a comfortable house, a secure job, a pleasurable pastime and good savings. Thus, after overcoming some minor problems, Richard establishes his identity in Memphis. In a matter of two years, he gains more confidence and knowledge than he had gained in the first seventeen years of his life. The second stage of Richardís life gets over by Chapter XIV as he leaves Memphis for Chicago.
The third stage of Richardís autobiography starts from Chapter XV and continues till the end of the book in Chapter XX. Richard arrives in Chicago in 1925, at the age of nineteen. He seeks employment in Confectioners and a Café respectively, before securing a job at the Post office. Just when he feels that he has settled down to a life of peace and security, the Depression following the Wall Street crash shakes the fabric of his life and he finds himself helpless. As he struggles to make a living, he becomes the Secretary of the John Reed club and member of the Communist party. He gets involved in organizing meetings, attending seminars and writing pamphlets. However, he gets disillusioned by the party very soon and submits his resignation.
His career starts looking up once again and his writings get published but the Communist party members try their best to thwart his efforts. The end of Chapter XX shows Richard humiliated by the party and nursing his wound. However, his spirit awakens his conscience to fulfill his mission and speak against injustice through his writings. At the age of twenty-eight, Richard is an enlightened soul with years of struggle and suffering behind him. The novel thus ends on a poignant but hopeful note.