Richard Wright’s Black Boy tells the difficult story of coming of age as a young African American boy during a time of extreme racism in the South. Richard grows up with an extreme sense of distrust for white people, and is often times confused by this unequal treatment of people based upon their skin color. As he becomes older, he realizes that the white families in the South are given several privileges that the black families are not given, and he also begins to witness the pure rage that white families feel towards black families for no reason other than the color of their skin.
Long before Richard is a man, he experiences violence due to racism first hand. Throughout his life he loses his family as a result of white people; where his brother Ned is killed in Jacksonville after he is caught sleeping with a white prostitute, or when his Uncle Hoskins, who was murdered for being the owner of a competing tavern in Arkansas against whites.
Richard is relentless in his unwillingness to accept his place in society and is often times far too stubborn for his own good. Growing up in the South with rules set and enforced by white people, Richard struggles to stay above water in such a hopeless and harsh reality. After Richards father abandoned his mother to start a new family of his own, his mother becomes very ill. His father grew up a sharecropper, and unlike Richard, did whatever he was told to do by the white man.
As Richard grew older he began to realize and understand his father on a deeper level, having being conditioned to being treated less than human and having nothing to hope for, his father grew to be a man with no perception besides falling in line with all the other people of color. Richard however, was not like his father, or like any of the other kids for that matter. Richard always withheld a rebellious spirit, starting from as a child and even as a young man. While Richard was in school, he was to give a speech to the school during graduation.
The principle didn’t not approve of Richards speech and instructed him to read a prewritten speech by the principle rather than what Richard had prepared. When Richard complained and resisted the idea, he was threatened to have his graduation revoked. Richard demonstrated his freewill and his ability to act courageously to defend what he deems right. Richard left school with no diploma because he was not willing to allow something so unjust happen to him with resistance.
There were others who did not support his cause of standing up to the white man. Shorty, the polar opposite to Richard’s open stubbornness, is open to be ridiculed and embarrassed by the white man if it means any sort of temporary gain. Shorty is considered a clown to the white man, and even allows men to kick him in the gut for a quarter. “My ass is tough and quarters is scarce.” (Ch.12 229). It is evidently clear that Shorty is willing to be violated and ridiculed because he believes that there isn’t a way out, while Richard will do whatever it take to avoid this dehumanization.
Richard tells his story of coming of age during the time of Jim Crow, where segregation and racism were still very much alive. You see Richard grow from a renegade child into a self-educated African American man who depicts and confronts the injustices and cruelties he endured throughout his life. Being born in Mississippi into a family of former slaves, it was difficult for Richard to escape the reality of racism and bigotry in an area where lynching was still very common. “This was the culture from which I sprang. This was the terror from which I fled.” (Ch. 14 303).
Due to Jim Crow segregation laws, it was nearly impossible for Richard to obtain a proper education through schooling like the rest of the white children. Instead of growing up being educated properly, Richard grew up in a chaotic world with violent and abusive family members, a society with racial segregation, and grew up with a lack of formal educational. Considering his family was uneducated, Richard escaped his reality by reading books. “I hungered for books, new ways of looking and seeing or being affected by something that made the look of the world different.” (Ch.13 249.)
Throughout all of Richards’s hardships and struggles there is one thing that keeps him motivated to continue trying to find a better way of life for his family, and that is the American Dream. To many people, the American Dream signifies wealth, status, and success, but to Richard is it far more complicated than that. After all of the cruel experiences while living in South, Richard dreams of saving enough to take his mother and brother to the North were life has been said to be easier for people of color.
Richard dreams of being happy, and this dream manifests to an unrelenting desire to do whatever necessary to ensure his destiny of traveling north is successful. This long journey of saving enough to take his mother and brother up north was no easy task, and Richard was forced to work hard jobs and even commit crimes in order to save enough so that he could afford the journey.
Richard’s hunger signifies the American Dream; his constant hunger for food symbolized his drive and motivation to find a way out of the south. His empty stomach represented his empty satisfaction with the life he was currently living. He was tired of living in rat-invested apartments with no running water or electricity, he was tired of watching his mother cry and slowly weaken from being sick so long. Richard knew from the beginning that he was not going to accept the terms that were given to him at the start of his life; he was determined to shape the world based upon how he deemed it should be shaped, and he was not going to easily shaken.
Richard quickly realizes that his dreams of the North being different from the south are soon discredited. Richard begins to question his motives of traveling north after he finds himself once again being threatened and living in poverty once again.