Black Boy Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Black Boy.
This section contains 940 words
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Black Boy Summary & Study Guide Description

Black Boy Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Black Boy by Richard Wright.

Richard Wright begins the account of his life at age four, when, bored and restless, he accidentally sets his house on fire. His mother, both frightened and furious, beats him severely.

Richard’s father abandons the family, and from that point on, hunger is a constant factor in their lives as Richard’s mother struggles to provide for her family. Because she must work, Richard is left alone much of the time and finds his way into some of the local saloons. By the age of six he becomes both a drunkard and user of obscenities.

In desperation the family moves to Arkansas to live with his Aunt Maggie, and along the way they stop to visit his Granny who lives in Jackson, Mississippi. Granny disapproves of Richard’s spirited personality and antics, and beats him for infractions he doesn’t even understand.

Eventually they leave Granny’s and continue to Aunt Maggie’s. Her husband, Uncle Hoskin, runs a successful saloon and for the first time there is adequate food. But one night Hoskin doesn’t return home. The family gets word that he has been killed by whites who were jealous of his profitable business. The family learns that the same whites have threatened to kill the whole family. They are forced to pack quickly and flee in the night back to Granny’s.

After Richard’s mother suffers a stroke, Richard lives temporarily with his Uncle Clark and Aunt Jody, but soon returns to Granny’s. She and his Aunt Addie are physically and mentally abusive, always trying to force him to accept their God and religion. Eventually Addie and Granny give up on Richard. He is allowed to enroll in public school rather than the Seventh Day Adventist School where Addie teaches. Richard loves reading and writing and excels as a student, but he never has a chance to go to school for more than a few years at a time.

Richard’s Uncle Tom comes to live at Granny’s, and life gets even worse for Richard whose approach to life is so different than anyone else in the family. Uncle Tom thinks he is rude and says he will beat him for his insolence. Richard lives up to his vow not to let anyone ever beat him again, and fends off his uncle with razor blades. The family begins to think Richard is crazy, and Richard begins to realize that in his family’s eyes, he is worthless.

Richard enters the working world where he encounters the brutal racism and violence of southern whites. He gets a job at an optical company, but even though the owner is kind, he is forced to quit because the white workers resent him and make it clear they will kill him if he stays. He knows that he cannot live under these conditions, and is convinced he must leave the South. He is so desperate that he resorts to stealing in order to get enough money to finance a move.

Richard finally gets to Memphis where he finds a boarding house run by a kind lady named Mrs. Moss. She thinks Richard would be a perfect husband for her daughter, Bess. Richard likes both Bess and her mother, but makes it clear that marriage is not an option. While living in Memphis he gets a job at another optical company. It is while he is employed there that he finds a way to get library books, a privilege denied to Negros. Once Richard starts reading he doesn’t stop. His hunger for knowledge equals his physical hunger. A new world opens to him and as he learns, he realizes how much he has been denied. During this time he works at his writing, and though his attempts are mediocre, he senses that this should be his life’s work.

Richard’s mother, brother, and eventually Aunt Maggie join him in Memphis. Once there is enough money Richard and Maggie move to Chicago followed by his brother and mother when they can finance it. In Chicago Richard continues to struggle with racism, hunger and poverty. He works at a number of jobs, but is treated with contempt and indifference by most. One employer, the Hoffman’s, did treat Richard decently, but Richard leaves because he senses their pity, and for him pity is worse than abuse.

It is not long before the Great Depression hits, and Richard like so many others is out of work, hungry and destitute. He is finally forced to seek help from a government relief agency. He is assigned to a number of jobs by the agency. One is at a large Chicago hospital where he cares for the research animals. The doctors barely notice Richard, and when he asks questions he is ridiculed.

Richard meets other young men who think like he does, some of whom belong to the Communist Party. They urge him to join and eventually he does. He is most intrigued with their philosophy of fighting oppression and believes he can make a contribution to the Party through his writing. But as has always been his curse, his motives are completely misunderstood. The Party wants total commitment and conformity whereas Richard is a non-conforming individualist. He is soon at odds with the Party and eventually he is accused of being an intellectual and a traitor. Richard resigns from the party deeply disappointed in its failures, but he resolves to fight on trying to explain his way with words. Although his story ends at this point, we know he was successful and went on to publish many important books.

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This section contains 940 words
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Buy the Black Boy Study Guide
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