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Free Study Guide-Black Boy by Richard Wright-Free Online Book Notes
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Richard Wright’s Black Boy exposes the irony in the life of a Negro. Richard and his fellowmen are drawn into a vicious trap made up of fear-hate-rebellion-fear. Oppressed for years by the White majority, the Negroes live in eternal fear. They hate the White people for suppressing their rights and ill-treating them, but they are afraid of revolting against them. Horace Cayton points out this dichotomy in Black Boy wherein "a black person’s insecurities are reinforced by the environment; efforts to rebel, brought on by hatred of a humiliating position, result in fear of punishment, leading to a deep-seated feeling of guilt."

Richard goes through this dilemma before asserting his right as an individual and as a writer. Whenever he witnesses or hears about the atrocities committed by the Whites on the blacks, he fears his own position as a Negro. However, such incidents build up his hatred for the White man and his heart rebels against their attitude. Many times, his face expresses this resentment and therefore earns the displeasure of his employers. For fear of losing his job, security and dream, he curbs his agitated feelings and pretends to remain unaffected by his environment. He carries on this façade till his conscience rebels against the injustice and urges him to pen down his wounded pride on paper. Once again, he fears opposition and criticism but makes up his mind to fight against the onslaughts hurled at him. He hopes that in the future, other blacks will become inspired by his courage and carry on the rebellion.


In order to make his autobiography effective and convincing, Richard Wright makes use of symbolism. He is therefore successful in highlighting the plight of the Negroes in America. Richard himself symbolizes the helpless Negro trapped between religion and racism. Granny symbolizes religion and the Orthodox Church, while Southern America and White employers symbolize racism. Oppression of his tormentors and fear of punishment stifles Richard. He struggles to extricate himself from their trap and achieve his goal in life. When he leaves Jackson, he remembers "This was the cult from which I sprang. This was the terror from which I fled." However, Chicago brings fresh troubles. First, the Depression disrupts his life and then the frenzied Communists disillusion him. Soon after the Wall Street crash, he finds himself at the Relief center asking for food. As he stands in the line, he observes other Negro men and women exchanging notes as they wait for their rations. He likens this situation to the one where the blacks wait patiently to get their rights from the White Americans.

At the Medical research center, racial discrimination is rigidly followed. The higher staff members occupy the upper stories of the building, while the lower staff members, like Richard and his fellow workers, live in the underground of the building. The upper and the lower portions symbolize the divisions between the White races and the Blacks. The concluding lines of Chapter XVII effectively convey this discrimination. "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 underworld of American life for three hundred years - and we made our own code of ethics, values, loyalty."

Richard feels that the life of the Negroes is like the plight of the animals at the center is like. The doctors at the Center remove the vocal chords of noisy animals like the dogs, in order to maintain the peace of the place. They are unaffected by the struggle and pain caused to the animals. Richard compares their suffering to that of the Negroes who remain silent spectators to the atrocities committed on them by the Whites. The black Americans behaved like the dogs after their vocal chords are removed and "lift their heads to the ceiling and gape in a soundless wail. The sight became lodged in my imagination as a symbol of silent suffering."

Richard’s association and experience with the Communists is terrifying. They discourage his talent as a writer and call him an intellectual, ‘bourgeois’, and a ‘Trotskyite.’ They disrupt his creative process. They even force him to voice false propaganda and shallow ideology. Through their threats and high-handed behavior, they stop him from achieving glory as a writer. The Communists thus symbolize Horror. The title of the second part is thus appropriately named as "Horror and Glory."

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Free Study Guide-Black Boy by Richard Wright-Online Chapter Summary


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