Notes on Black Boy Themes

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Black Boy Topic Tracking: Ignorance

Chapters 1-5

Ignorance 1: As a child, Wright is lied to or silenced when he asks his family profound questions. If he is simply curious about something he sees and asks about it, he will likely hear "Why do you want to know?" and when he cannot come up with a practical reason, he is laughed at.

Ignorance 2: He never knew or understood his own father. Seeing his father abandon his family, and suddenly becoming the man of the house, changes Richard forever. He has many ideas about his own masculinity, some of which are based in wanting to be as little like his father as possible.

Ignorance 3: He is ignorant of his whole family's past and heritage (even when he asks simply "is Granny white?" because she looks white, he does not get a straight answer). Everyone seems either too afraid or too angry to explain the differences between Whites and Blacks in America. And yet more and more, Richard observes that that forced ignorance is what keeps Blacks from really knowing and understanding each other.

Ignorance 4: Wright's own ignorance when he sells KKK newspapers without realizing it. He reels with shock and quickly stops selling them, feeling like a fool for not even looking at the paper he sells.

Chapters 6-10

Ignorance 5: He does not know how to handle whites. It often gets him into trouble because he does not know how to pacify an angry, suspicious or ignorant white person.

Chapters 11-15

Ignorance 6: Bess and Mrs. Moss, who automatically accept Richard as a good boy, seem to be the epitome of blissful ignorance. When he argues with them, saying that he could easily be a dangerous criminal, they confidently reject the idea, based on his politeness and pleasant demeanor. Richard is mystified.

Ignorance 7: Being cheated by some bootleggers in Memphis, when he thought he was worldly-wise, shows Richard that he too can be a victim of blind ignorance.

Ignorance 8: When he wants library books and is forced to stay ignorant until a white man lets him use his card, Richard feels the tension of trying to be different in the highly structured Southern society.

Chapters 16-20

Ignorance 9: Communists, who call him an intellectual just because he is articulate and reads a lot, make Richard furious. He tries to argue, saying that he sweeps floors for a living, but to them, superficial appearance is paramount.

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