Book Notes Chapter 18 Notes from Black Boy

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Black Boy Chapter 18

Richard meets a friend of the Irishman from the post office, who invites him to join the John Reed Club, a revolutionary organization for artists and writers. Not wanting to be organized, Richard goes to a meeting for fun and ends up joining the editorial board of its magazine, "Left Front." He meets many now-famous artists, and becomes friendly with many different kinds of people, most of them white. He worries that they are secretly racist, but is so taken with the idea of a unity of purpose in workers around the world, that he drops his cynicism. He finds that these people "believe in life." Chapter 18, pg. 320 His mother, however, looks over the magazine and is horrified at its violent vision of uprising. He tries to explain its symbolism to her, but cannot. Disturbed that a publication meant for working class people is written in a way that cannot be understood by them, Richard complains to the Club. They give him no satisfactory answers. Still, they publish his poetry, and their ambitions (to force the government to provide funding for struggling artists) impress him. He decides to try to let other blacks know about Communism, and plans to write a biographical sketch of a black Communist.

There is a bitter rift between the artists in the club, who control the policy, and its writers, who side with the interests of "Left Front." A reelection of club officials is called for, and Richard, despite being greatly ignorant of the club's aims, is elected secretary (a position of leadership). He later learns that he was used by the writers to gain control of the club, because they knew that its artists could never deny office to a black man, since their philosophy was supposed to be racial equality. Richard resents being used.

Meanwhile, another battle is going on: a few of the members of the John Reed Club are also members of the Communist party. Because these few were often the most convincing during the club meetings, the Communist party exerts a certain amount of control over the club. Eventually this leads to Richard being forced to join the party if he wants to continue in the club. He is torn between the demands of the party and his loyalty to "Left Front": "Trying to please everybody, I pleased nobody," he says ruefully. Chapter 18, pg. 324

Into the mess of a disintegrating club, there arrives a Communist from Detroit, Comrade Young. Young seems strange to Richard, but he accepts him into the club and writes to the party, asking for Young's references. Young quickly becomes an ardent and respected member of the club. One night, he requests to make a speech, and launches into a strange and wild attack on the integrity of another club member. Since Young is a Communist, the club assumes he is voicing the opinion of the party, and they are afraid to disagree. Still, everyone finds it odd. When Richard questions him, Young says, "We must have a purge." Chapter 118, pg. 326 He claims to have the support of the party. Yet when the charges are brought against the party itself, and party officials promise to consider them, Young suddenly disappears. He is later discovered to be back in a mental institution from which he had escaped! Richard wonders what kind of club he is running, if a lunatic could step in and take charge of it. He decides to keep the information secret, and feels very disturbed.

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