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Characters and Themes in Richard Wright’s Black Boy

Characters and Themes in Black Boy

The novel, Black Boy is Richard Wright’s autobiographical account of his life beginning with his earliest memories and ending with his departure for the North at age nineteen. In Black Boy, Wright tells of an unsettled family life that takes him from Natchez, Mississippi, to Memphis, Tennessee, back to Jackson, Mississippi, then to Arkansas, back again to Mississippi, and finally to Memphis once more, where he prepares for his eventual migration to Chicago.

Most critics agree that Black Boy is a highly selective account, more selective than the term “record” in its subtitle suggests. At the time Wright wrote Black Boy, he was already an accomplished author of fiction. He had published a collection of short stories called Uncle Tom’s Children and the highly successful novel Native Son. Wright chose carefully the experiences he includes in Black Boy, the ones he highlights, and the tone in which he writes about them. Many readers even think that he invents some of the incidents. Most agree, however, that Wright crafts his autobiography for the precise impact he wants.

Of course, the central character of Black Boy is young Richard Wright. To distinguish between this young character and the author looking back on him many years later and even occasionally inventing incidents about him, this guide follows the standard practice of referring to the former as “Richard” and the latter as “Wright.” Wright presents Richard

American Oppression in Black Boy Wright Black Boy Essays

American Oppression in Black Boy Growing up as a Negro in the South in the early 1900’s is not that easy, for some people tend to suffer different forms of oppression. In this case, it happens in the autobiography called Black Boy written by Richard Wright. The novel is set in the early part of the 1900’s, somewhere in deep Jim Crow South. Richard Wright, who is obviously the main character, is also the protagonist. The antagonist is no one person in particular, for it takes many different forms called “oppression” in general. The main character over comes this “oppression” by rebelling against the common roles of the black, Jim Crow society. Richard Wright’s character was affected in early childhood by the effects of societal oppression, but he became a great American author despite these negative factors in his life. Today everyone encounters some form of oppression. One of the forms Richard is encountering is called societal oppression. As an example, after Richard sees a “black” boy whipped by a “white” man, he asks his mother why did the incident happen. His mother says, ” ‘The “white” man did not whip the “black” boy…He beat the “black” boy, ‘ “(31). This quote is showing racism, which is one way of society keeping Richard Wright, and all other blacks in the South down. Another example is when is at the rail road station with his mother, and as they are waiting for the train, he sees something he has never seen, “…for the first time I noticed that there were two lines of people at the ticket window, a “white” line and a “black” line,” (55). This excerpt is demonstrating how this scene of Jim Crow laws is keeping a certain group of people apart, which is also another form of societal oppression. Societal oppression occurs again when Richard is “hanging” out with his friends, and their conversation with each other leads on to the subject of war. One of his friends really get into the subject and says, ” ‘Yeah, they send you to war, make you lick them Germans, teach you how to fight and when you come back they scared of you,’ “(90). This quote means that the “white” people put the “black” people on the front line to defend our country, and when they come back, they can not accept them, therefore they oppress them in different ways, which is societal oppression. The last example happens when Richard wants to borrow a library card, and so he thinks about asking his boss. After thinking about it for a while, he knew he could not ask him, for he knows the boss is a Caucasian Baptist, and Richard thinks that he would not be able to accept the fact of a “black” boy, such as Richard, would want to read and cultivate his intelligence. This would be considered societal oppression, for he knows his boss does not want Richard to be enlightened with books, in turn keeping Richard away from the light of knowledge. These are examples of societal oppression that Richard Wright overcomes and rises to the top on his own. Internalized oppression is a hard thing to overcome. One of the ways Richard Wright is confronted with internalized oppression is when he sees a “black” boy being beaten by a “white” man, so he automatically thinks that the “white” man is the boys father. “…Did not all fathers, like my father, have the right to beat their children? A paternal right was the only right, to my understanding…” (31). This excerpt is showing internalized oppression, for he thinks it is okay for a parent to abuse their child, in turn having the child think that beating a child is okay, and only a parent can do the beating. Another case of internalized oppression occurs when Richard says a bad word, and then his Aunt Jody lectures him by saying, ” ‘Richard, you are a very bad, bad boy,’ “(108). Later in the passage, he also says that he does not care that he is a “bad boy.” That states that Richard believes that he is a bad person, which means he is experiencing internalized oppression. Later in the novel, after Richard read some books, he then wants to use the words he has learned as weapons, but he could not, because by him using the words it frightened him. This is internalized oppression, for Richard thinks of the words as something sacred only white people can use. If he did use the words, he feels as though he may get into trouble. Later, Richard tries to identify himself with a book, but he feels guilty when he does so. Therefore he acts in way so the whites will not dislike him. It is an internal oppression, for he is keeping himself down by not physically expressing his feelings that he has received from the books he has read. All of the above, are examples of internalized oppression. The way Richard Wright overcomes this abstract oppression is reflected upon his personality, which helps him become that great American author. One of the examples to prove this true, occurs when it was Richard’s first day of school. “During that noon hour I learned all the four-letter words describing physiological sex functions, and discovered that I had know them before…A tall black boy recited a long, funny piece of doggerel, replete with filth, describing the physiological relations between men and women, and I memorized it word for word after having heard it but once, “(32). This quote is showing how smart and quick-to-learn Richard is, which is a part of his personality and ability to understand . Another example happens when his Uncle Tom is about to whip Richard, so he shows the razors to his uncle. In a low voice Richard says, ” ‘If you touch me, I’ll cut you! Maybe I’ll get cut too, but I’ll cut you, so help me God,’ “(175). This passage is revealing that Richard is rebellious by standing up for himself and confronting his uncle for something he did not do. Further on, when Richard is confronted with the fact that white people like Negroes who stole from them, than to know their own true self-worth. Richard is thinking, “But I, who stole nothing, who wanted to look them straight in the face, who wanted to talk and act like a man, inspired fear in them,” (219). This passage is demonstrating how bold and brave Richard is, for he wants to stand up for himself against a white man who looked down on him. Later in the novel, Richard is pondering on what he should do in his life. He knows he can not stay in the South and willingly be kicked as Shorty had done. He would rather die, then do what Shorty has already submitted to. This is showing how much strength and pride Richard has. These are all examples of Richard Wright’s character, that has helped him become the great author that he is. Societal oppression and internalized oppression has affected Richard Wright in his early childhood years. The negative factors he has overcame throughout his life, has contributed to his rise as a great American author. One of the many themes, in the novel is if you follow what you feel is wrong, then you may not be able to rise to the top. In “Black Boy,” Richard Wright did just the opposite. Instead of submitting, like everyone else, to the low life, Jim Crow laws were intended for, he has risen above those who already has submitted.

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