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Free Study Guide-Black Boy by Richard Wright-Free Online Book Notes
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THEMES ANALYSIS

Major Themes

As one reads Richard Wright’s Black Boy, the theme of ‘Oppression leading to fear and rebellion,’ comes into focus. Hunger, poverty, religion and racism oppress Richard from asserting his identity as a human being and an individual. At the age of six, after his father deserts them, he experiences poverty and hunger. As a growing child, he desires good food but it is denied to him after his mother loses her job and then falls ill. Hunger keeps chasing him like a shadow through out his childhood and adolescence and continues to haunt him in his adult life. Often it oppresses his creativity and career opportunities. Religion is another factor that curbs his growth as an individual and as an artist. Granny’s rigid routine of church service, prayer and religious study restrict Richard from acquiring knowledge through books other than religion and expressing his talent through writing. Racist domination and bias insult his ago and threaten his right as a human being and citizen of a country.

All these forces create fear in his heart, just as it would in millions of other Negroes in America. As he remarks in the introduction to Native Son, "There seems to hover somewhere in that dark part of all our lives, in some more than in others, an objectless, timeless, spaceless element of primal fear and dread, stemming, perhaps, from our birth (depending upon whether one’s outlook upon personality is Freudian or non-Freudian), a fear and dread which exercises an impelling influence upon our lives all out of proportion to its obscurity." And when fear grips the heart, it turns into rebellion. Richard’s heart rebels against injustice meted out to him by the whites, religious fanatics and Communists. He makes a determination to express his sentiments against their attitude in paper. He is hopeful that his writings would inspire others to raise their voice against oppression. He gives this call for rebellion in the closing paragraph of the book. "I would hurl into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human."


Minor Themes

The other striking theme of the novel is ‘Conflict of desires leading to frustration.’ Richard’s growth as an individual is arrested by the restrictions imposed on him by callous relatives, arrogant colleagues and narrow-minded Communists. As a child, Richard’s desire for freedom and enjoyment is snatched away by his crude father, fanatical grand mother and insensitive Uncles and Aunts. At Memphis, his father shouts at him for making noise and running around a cat and disturbing his sleep. Richard hates his father for curbing his desire for fun and frolic and in frustration kills the cat. At Jackson, his grand mother feeds him on mush, gravy and religious sermons, thus depriving him of good food and excitement. Richard tries to escape out of this trap by eating outside and writing stories of fantasy. Aunt Cleo joins him forcibly in a religious school and unjustly punishes him. Frustrated by her behavior, Richard threatens her with a knife. Both Uncle Clark and Tom deprive him of affection and taunt him. Richard isolates himself from them.

At his work place, he faces opposition from his colleagues and lands in trouble. At the Optical Company in Jackson, his young colleagues, Pease, and Reynold get offended when Richard expresses a desire to learn the trade from them. They resent his attitude to compete with them. Richard resigns from the company in frustration. At the textile shop, his employers’ desire to play with the sentiments of the Negroes clashes with his righteous attitude. In the process, he earns the displeasure of his employers. At Memphis, Richard is repulsed by the foreman’s desire to create misunderstanding between himself and another Negro boy. However, he gives in to the wishes of the White man out of frustration and faces Harrison in the boxing ring.

In Chicago, Richard gets inspired by the Communist ideologies of Lenin and joins the party. However, the members of the party fail to appreciate his efforts in propagating their ideologies through his writings. Their ignorance and rigid attitude clash with Richard’s desire to express his sentiments through his articles and stories and promote new writers to do the same. Thus, Richard resigns from the party in frustration.

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