Notes on Black Boy Themes

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Black Boy Topic Tracking: Coming of Age

Chapters 1-5

Coming of Age 1: When he kills the kitten his father had angrily (but not seriously) told him to kill, he shows his father what he thinks of him, without getting into trouble. His father realizes that if he were to chastise Richard for following his orders, no matter how flippant he was being, that he would be showing Richard that he need not always be taken seriously. Since he wants to be seen as the lawmaker of the family, he is willing to give up his sense of reason in order to appear powerful. Richard's recognition of this stubborness is an important discovery.

Coming of Age 2: When he sees his father for the last time, he sees him as a pathetic and lost figure who tried to make it in the big city and failed. This separates him even more from his father, since he himself was able to become a successful person in the even bigger city of Chicago. He only has to think of himself standing his ideological ground in the faces of white, Northern Communists to realize how far he has come.

Chapters 6-10

Coming of Age 3: He leaves the church quietly and for good. Later, he fights with his extended family (Uncle Tom, Aunt Addie) about the issue, but, as he gets older, he never uses it against his mother. He simply removes himself from something he does not agree with.

Coming of Age 4: His passionate rebellion against Aunt Addie and Uncle Tom makes them view him as a lost cause, but the outcome is that they never bother him again. That is, he decides that he would rather prove that he is strong enough to stand up for himself than continue fighting in a childish way. He wants to resolve their differences once and for all, and ends up looking like a violent lunatic. He shows Addie and Tom that they should be scared of him, and though they judge him very harshly, they also leave him alone.

Coming of Age 5: Meanwhile, he publishes "The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre" despite criticism from his family. He says that if he had known how radical he was being, he would have been too frightened to continue. But he does not realize just how far he is moving against the norm when he writes a pulp short story with the word "hell" in the title, after growing up in a family where any kind of literature is considered sinful.

Chapters 11-15

Coming of Age 6: When he moves out on his own to Beale Street in Memphis, he realizes that his assumptions (based on what his family and friends told him) can be drastically wrong: on the supposedly sinful street, he meets the most trusting and friendly people he has ever known.

Coming of Age 7: In Memphis, he finally has the opportunity to learn about what kind of adult he wants to be. When he watches Shorty make a fool of himself for money, he understands that he could never compromise himself that way. He feels distanced from his fellow workers, but all the more certain of himself.

Coming of Age 8: With his growing ambition, he is able to get a library card from a white man, since he can't have one himself. It is a frightening situation for Richard, since he does not know whether he might ask the wrong man for a favor and be beaten. His hunger for knowledge is strong enough to overcome his fear.

Coming of Age 9: He finally leaves the South to go to Chicago, a place he has never been and knows nothing about. He has enough faith in himself and in the idea of North to go without even having a place to live when he gets there.

Chapters 16-20

Coming of Age 10: After warily becoming associated with a headstrong, intimidating group of Communists, he rebels against them even though he knows he will get into trouble, and that he is standing alone. He reads Communist literature, whether sanctioned by the party or not, until he feels he understands the issues, and then makes his own decisions about them. The party cannot accept that, but Richard is confident in himself and continues to support the Communist's vision, despite their fear of intellectuals.

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