Black Boy: The Theme of Richard Wright’s “Black Boy”
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The theme of Richard Wright’s “Black Boy” is racism because he became a black boy for the sole purpose of survival, to make enough money, stop the hunger pains, and to eventually move to the North where he could be himself. Wright grew up in the deep dirty South; the Jim Crow South of the early twentieth century. From an early age Richard Wright was aware of two races, the black and the white. Yet he never understood the relations between the two races. The fact that he didn’t understand but was always trying to got him into trouble many times. When in Memphis, Wright reluctantly assumed the role society dictated for him, the role of a black boy.
As an innocent child Wright sees no difference between the blacks and the whites. Despite he is aware of the existence of a difference. “My grandmother who was as white as any white person, had never looked white to me.”(Pg. 31) This statement shows his confusion about blacks and whites. As a child Wright heard of a white man beating a black boy and believed that the white man was allowed to beat the black child. Wright did not think that whites had the right to beat blacks because of their race. Instead he assumed that the white man was the black boy’s father. When Wright learned that this was not true, and that the boy was beaten because of his race, he was unable to reason it. Even as he got older he didn’t see the color of people. In one instance Richard and a friend are standing outside a shop when some white people pass by, Richard doesn’t move to accommodate the white people because he simple didn’t notice that they were white.
As a child, Wright ultimately learned to fear white people. However, he still did not understand the social differences between the races. White people killed Richard’s uncle; and his aunt and another uncle were forced to flee from the whites. When Wright asks his mother about these incidents she tells him, “You keep your mouth shut or the white folks will get you too.” As a teenager Wright learns that a white man killed his friend’s brother. When he hears about this killing he seems unable to do anything other than sit and think about what has happed. Thereafter Wright’s perception of the relations between blacks and whites became more negative. The whites he encounters while working are resentful of him. They not only beat him, but also try to force him to fight other blacks. Wright sees that the whites he encounters will do anything possible to belittle black people. A prime example is when Shorty is given a quarter just to humiliate himself. Wright then begins to live his entire life in fear of doing or saying the wrong thing and therefore subjecting himself to the wrath of the whites. He realizes that even a minor mistake in action or word could lead to his death. And that would be the last thing he wanted to occur.
For most of his life, Wright had dreams of leaving the South. As a young teenager he says, “I dreamed of going north and writing books, novels. The North symbolized to me all that I had not felt and seen.”(Pg.186) In “Black Boy” Wright admits that his goal was not to go to the North, but to escape the South. Wright believed that the North was a safe harbor for the racial prejudices and injustices that characterized the South. His ultimate and all consuming goal was to reach the North. To achieve this he betrayed his moral beliefs, doing things and fell victim to powers and beliefs that he said he never would; such as the sins his grandmother talked about. For the first time in his life he stole. More importantly he allowed himself to become a “good black boy” by mindlessly obeying the whites and pretending to have no identity and no intelligence of his own.
There are many themes in Black Boy. All of them are directly or indirectly the product of racism. Wright is hungry because his mother, a black woman, cannot find a job that pays well. Wright tries to rebel against the restraint society placed upon his race. He feels isolated because he questions the relations between the races and because he will not submit to the demands of a racist society.