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Black Boy: Richard Wright’s Autobiographical Novel

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Richard Wright’s autobiographical novel, Black Boy, describes his life during the 1900’s, especially of the segregation and discrimination the Negroes had to go through. As Richard grows up, he notices bits and pieces of the unjust treatment blacks are given, eventually having to conform to this culture. Richard never really understands how and why his character is unacceptable, but unwillingly forces himself to change his identity to someone whites expect him to be for the sake of surviving.

Even though Richard vaguely knew of the racial tension going on in the world, he never actually processed what that meant for him and how it will affect his life and future. For instance, when discussing job opportunities with his old classmate, Griggs advised, “When you’re in front of white people, think before you speak. Your way of doing things is all right among our people, but not for white people. They won’t stand for it.” (Wright, 184) Being hit with reality gave Richard insight on why it was so difficult for him to get a job, forcing him to reassess his position in life. He realized that there existed an invisible line between the whites and blacks that was very dangerous to cross. Furthermore, after taking Gregg’s advice, Richard admitted, “I would remember to dissemble for short periods, then I would forget and act straight and human again, not with the desire to harm anybody, but merely forgetting the artificial status of race and class.” (Wright, 185) Richard puts in the effort to try to change but his opinions and mindset often distracts him from his intentions. His character does not allow him to conform to these regulations as easily, getting him into more trouble than he would’ve. Possessing the knowledge of the world’s customs made Richard more successful in the business world but less successful in being human.

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Being aware of how Negroes should act around whites allowed Richard to open up more opportunities for himself since it pleased the whites, easily changing his old habits over time. Moreover, after getting multiple jobs with white bosses, Richard claimed, “I was now rapidly learning to contain the tension I felt in my relations with whites… Either I could stand more mental strain than formerly or I had discovered deep within me ways of handling it.” (Wright, 224) Over time, Richard had successfully planted the notion of being black in his head, allowing him to be more consistent in his work place. He learned to get used to the segregation going around in his daily life, marking himself off the list of unwanted workers. In addition, when a white man who Richard worked under asked how he was doing, he answered, “‘Oh, fine, sir!’… with false heartiness, falling quickly into that nigger-being-a-good-natured-boy-inthe-presence-of-a-white-man pattern into which I could now slide easily.” (Wright, 234) His instincts came into action when formerly greeting a white man so that he would make a good impression for himself. Without a good impression, Richard could lose his job leading to a lack of food, and ultimately, death, so it was important that he made sure to act as they pleased. Furthermore, after being inspired by the books he read, he claimed, “I now knew what being a Negro meant. I could endure the hunger. I had learned to live with the hate.” (Wright, 250) Richard fully acknowledged what being a Negro meant at the time, but he never accepted it as right; he could not understand why they were not considered human. However, he still understood the necessity of acting as a stereotypical black because he needed to feed himself. Although Richard had a difficult time changing his actions, he eventually learned to comply to the whites’ expectations easily even if he didn’t admire them.

Although Richard despised the whites deep down for the unfair treatment they gave, he had no choice but to surrender to their expectations since they provided him his income. For example, when discussing with his co-workers about the cruelty of the whites, he addresses, “But under all our talk floated a latent sense of violence; the whites had drawn a line over which we dared not to step and we accepted that line because our bread was at stake.” (Wright, 229) Richard knew he was not able to defend his values, no matter how strong they were, because he would be putting his life on the line. The principles of surviving was earning money and Richard would die if he were to stand up for himself and express his hatred towards the whites. Moreover, when explaining why he could not tell his boss the truth about how he really felt, he declared, “Because my life was completely conditioned by what they said or did, it would have been a tantamount to challenging them.” (Wright, 252) The white people in the South did not prefer blacks to move to different racial environment from the South, for they would change into someone almost human. How Richard lived depended on how the whites felt towards them, and since Richard knew not to tell them the truth, he was able to lie his way out of the South. Additionally, when expressing their emotions and thoughts on society’s norms, he insisted, “Each of us hated and feared the whites, yet had a white man put in a sudden appearance we would have assumed silent, obedient smiles.” (Wright, 229) This kind of behavior was a given to all the Negroes; no one acted otherwise or else they would have no job or money to support themselves. The whites who were always in a higher position than blacks were very prejudiced towards Negroes, firing them according to their preferences. The blacks had no choice but to deal with this kind of discrimination to be able to live a life that is not even fair.

Richard Wright ultimately gives in to the unexplainable guidelines the whites have set up for the Negroes in order to live. Even though Richard had a hard time accustoming to the norms in society at first, he eventually built it into his daily routines. No matter how much Richard thought things were wrong, he knew he had no choice but to follow them anyway. The way whites had taken over his life was unbearingly difficult, but he undoubtedly followed through with the right mindset, just wrong actions.

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Black Boy: Richard Wright’s Autobiographical Novel. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from
“Black Boy: Richard Wright’s Autobiographical Novel.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
Black Boy: Richard Wright’s Autobiographical Novel. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2023].
Black Boy: Richard Wright’s Autobiographical Novel [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Jan 29]. Available from:
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