Black Boy - Essay Examples and Topic Ideas

In Black Boy, Richard Wright’s novel is an eye-opening autobiography about his encounters to stereotypes in the Jim Crow South. Wright explores stereotypes not only as an unpleasant belief held by unpleasant people but also as an insidious problem knit into the very fabric of society as a whole. Wright’s grotesque caricature of African American life reflects his poorly assimilated sociological theories, the emotional experiences rooted in his childhood, and his personal frustration from being black.

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Issues with Richard Wright’s Novel

Moreover, Wright’s pettiness intruded in his literary work, further distorting his characters. Richard does get accustomed to the stereotypes that are portrayed however, in some cases counters the stereotypes because of his dignity and pride. Richard is fiercely individual and constantly expresses a desire to join society on his own terms rather than be forced into one of the categories that society wishes him to fill. In this regard, Richard struggles against a dominant white culture—both in the South and in the North—and even against his own black culture. Some black families, like Granny’s, find solace in religion. But Wright does not have any “feeling for God,” and rejects the stern discipline black families impose on themselves. Wright’s only solace, and eventually his salvation, comes in the form of books. He begins a serious effort in self-education in Memphis and reads enough that he feels he has gained some knowledge of the world beyond the American South.

Which is very surprising in some cases because during this time period of oppression blacks weren’t allowed to excel in knowledge only to be taught certain things. Throughout the work, we see Richard observe the deleterious effects of stereotypes not only as it affects relations between whites and blacks, but also relations among blacks themselves. When Richard claims that he wants to become a writer, his family, Ms.Moss, peers and a few others would laugh at the idea, and being fellow blacks they scoffed saying it was ridiculous and out of reach. This was during a time period where blacks couldn’t publish or even read books because they were considered dumb and inferior. Though Richard didn’t mind and continued cautiously. Since there were separation laws and the laws stated black weren’t allowed to check out a book from the library unless running an errand for a white person with a note and signature. In chapter 13 Richard would ask help from Falk who was a white irish Catholic. Richard would forge the notes and read without anyone noticing satisfying his hunger for wanting to write. Which means if he were to get caught he could be lynched for such a stupid reason and he still took the chance. The elevator operator in Richard’s building in Memphis (where he works at the second optical shop), Shorty is willing to participate in racial prejudice in order to gain small amounts of change from white elevator-riders. Black workers, like Shorty in Memphis, act as “clowns” for white men, in order to gain favors, make extra money, and, with luck, earn enough to move north.

Although Richard criticizes Shorty for this, Shorty says only that he needs the money and doesn’t mind making fun of himself. But Wright is unwilling to act foolishly or submissively for white men’s benefit, and he knows that Shorty will never save enough money to be able to leave. Wright portrays characters such as Shorty as disappointing and shameful people, but also players in a vast drama of hatred, fear, and oppression. Shorty was to be more of a like the Sambo, identified as lazy, inarticulate and accepted Jim Crow laws and etiquette because he knows no better. Another character would be Harrison who is an African American man who worked at another optical shop across the street from Richard’s in Memphis. The white men offer to pay Richard and Harrison five dollars each to box one another. Harrison begs and pleads Richard to agree and fake it, so they wouldn’t make a fool of themselves. Richard later agrees to box with Harrison to entertain the white workers. When the fight starts, however, Richard and Harrison realize that they do not know how to fake it. Their frustrations at being manipulated take over, and they fight each other genuinely and viciously. After the fight, both Richard and Harrison are ashamed of their performance for their white racist “coworkers,” and the two speak very little to one another again. And this stereotype of brute and savagery .

As valedictorian, he has to write and give a speech at graduation. He does. But when it comes time to graduate, the principal tells him that white people are going to be in the audience, and has to give a different speech—one that the principal wrote for him. When Richard refuses, the principal threatens to stop him from graduating. Everyone tells him just to read the stupid speech, but Richard sticks to his guns. By the time he graduates, Richard is so over this stupidity that he walks out immediately after his speech.Through this little conflict, the reader learns quite a few things about Richard. First and foremost, Richard stands up for things he believes in. He doesn’t kiss up to anyone. In addition, Richard sticks to his morals. Even farther in the book, Richard does not give up his morals for anything except on one occasion.Richard already seems to know that a job in the South, teaching English literature in Jackson’s segregated schools, would be a kind of steady profession but also an acknowledgment that his life cannot transcend its origins. Richard is willing to risk his livelihood for his own ideals, and it is this daring that both puts him at odds with white southern society at various times, but also that ultimately allows him to escape that society and move north to Chicago.


Black boy isn’t just a series of events Wright has gone through it has a powerful meaning of his journey starting out as an innocent child curious and very naive because he doesn’t really get the world. He expresses the lack of understanding of stereotypes, laws and so on. He didn’t really start out with prejudice but with each experience, he started building up this fear. In some parts of the book, Richard is ashamed of something such as acting out a stereotype. Though the records of injustice, prejudice, and suffering were what he exposed to the world. In a society that would be so close minded not wanting to hear the truth of their wrongdoings. Neither white nor black culture knows how to handle a brilliant, strong-willed, self-respecting black man. Needless to say, none of the options satisfies him, so he forges his own middle path. And he writes it in a way that is subtle but clear empowering him and a few readers.

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