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Richard Wright’s Black Boy: The Meaning of American Hunger

Black Boy: The Meaning of American Hunger

When a person thinks about hunger, food comes to mind. We never think of hunger as anything else. In Richard Wright’s book titled “Black Boy (American Hunger)”, a young boy faces many different types of hunger. He refers to the phrase “American Hunger” throughout his book. I feel that the “American Hunger” which he is referring to is the hunger to be considered an American and be treated as an equal. Throughout his life he was treated as if he were from another planet. He was always considered to be different, an outcast and a loser. He felt the need to be a part of the so-called American Culture. He wanted to be able to do what the white children did. He wanted to be able to go to school, to learn, to read, have friends, have a job; but because he was an African American he could not. This is what I will be discussing in this paper his intellectual hunger.

Richard was so eager to learn that he kept constantly asking questions, and if his questions were left unanswered he would let his imagination take over.. He would try to find work in which he would be able to read some of the books. His family and relatives refused to let him learn. There is one incident in which his schoolteacher read to him. His grandmother got angry and said that reading was devils work. Through out his childhood he heard many terms and phrases. He never understood what they meant but once they were said he knew if they were good or bad. For example, when Richard was taking a bath and his grandmother came in to scrub his backside, Richard replied with, “When you get through, kiss back there.” This is just one of the many phrases he said in which he did not know the meaning. Through his eagerness to learn he began to understand himself, other blacks, and whites better. He continues to learn and to play dumb for his own survival. His self education began when a co-worker lent Richard his library card to read Mencken’s essays. He feels that his dreams and his stories in which he reads are an escape for him. He wants to fit in with others and be able to be apart of America.

Alienation Exposed in Richard Wright’s Black Boy

Alienation Exposed in Black Boy From the early days of Richard’s childhood, Richard was always alienated from his environment. Even though he tried to distance himself from the prejudice all around him, the white people still tried to turn him into the stereotypical southern black person. However, throughout the story Richard is also alienated by his own people and perhaps even more then from the white people. Richard was always a rebel, from his boyhood to his older teenage years. Richard’s grandmother was always excessively beating him. From the beginning, Richard would not subdue himself to the white man like the other black people around. The white people knew that he was different from other black men. Whites were scared because Richard challenged the system that they had created to insure white supremacy. They feared Richard, and some of the white people felt it necessary to act out their racist feelings in order to cover up their fear. White coworkers beat Richard because his boss was kind to him. Richard later had to leave a good job because those racist co-workers would “kill” him. When the principal at Richard’s school had asked Richard to give a speech to a large audience of white and black people, Richard refused to read the principal’s prepared speech. By reading the principal’s speech, Richard was saying what the white power wanted him to say and to Richard this would be giving in to the very thing he hated so much. Richard was willing to leave school without a diploma instead of this. White people alienated Richard from his environment because he did not accept the way of life that other black people did. Richard’s relatives never understood Richard and because of this he was alienated from his family and his own people. Shorty is the young black boy who gets beat by the white people and jokes about it. Richard hates Shorty because he accepts what Richard finds so disgusting. Richard goes over in his mind the different choices he can make to deal with the feelings he has. Richard does not want to “give in” and be a slave to the white people. He would never give in and become a slave because he has hated that idea since day one. Richard contemplates transferring his hatred and frustration out on other blacks, but knows that will not aid the situation.

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