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Reports & Essays: Social Issues - Racial


Black Boy
One main point of the United States Constitution was missing from the Jim Crow South: equality. The Constitution clearly states that "all men are created equal," but in the Jim Crow era blacks were continuously persecuted for something that would be acceptable in today's society. In the early 20th century the South was a place of racial prejudice, discrimination, and hate; blacks could be punished for simply looking at a white person in the wrong manner. Punishments included arrest, beating, even lychings were a common part of the age. This is how life was while Richard Wright was growing up; but in his autobiography Black Boy we learn that despite his being a black boy in the Jim Crow South, born on a Mississippi plantation, he is eventually able to achieve success. Although independence was a crucial factor that enabled Richard Wright to succeed, his rebelliousness, intelligence, and perseverance were also important contributing factors. Richard Wright was an independent person by nature. Throughout the book Richard never seemed to have an extreme emotional attachment to anyone. It was as if he did not need or want anyone's assistance or approval, except his own. Ever since Richard was very young he was forced to be independent. When he mother had her stroke, Richard was forced to take charge and become the person of the house and he would accept no one's help. "Though I was a child, I could no longer feel as a child, could no longer react as a child...When the neighbor's offered me food, I refused, already ashamed that so often in my life I had to be fed by strangers."(pg.97) While Richard was living at his Granny's his independence really started to show through. All Richard ever thought about was leaving to go to the North; especially after being ridiculed for writing his story, The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre. No one supported him. He wanted to be able to do what he wanted to, by himself. "I drea! med of going north and writing books and novels."(pg.186) Once Richard was on his own he felt free of the burden, of other people's opinions that had tied him down his entire life. Along with independence, his rebelliousness was another beginning point of Wright's drive to make it in a white man's world. The very first sign we see of the rebel in Wright is when he is only four years old. Richard and his brother are playing with a stray cat one day when his father orders them to get rid of the cat because it is making a lot of noise and Mr. Wright is trying to sleep, he even remarks, "Kill that damn thing!" (pg.18) That is just what Richard intends to do. He knows his father was just speaking figuratively because he was upset, but Richard also knows that if his father could not punish Richard without risking his authority. A second point at which Richard shows the rebellion in him was when he was about to graduate from the ninth grade. Richard was chosen as valedictorian of his class. As class valedictorian, Richard was responsible for delivering a speech at his graduation, to be held at one of the local public auditoriums. One day shortly before! the graduation ceremony is scheduled to take place Richard is summoned to the principal's office. The principal hands Richard a speech he has prepared for Richard to read. Richard has already written his one speech and refuses to read the principal's work. When told that he will not be allowed to graduate without abiding the principal and reading his speech, Richard's reaction is: "...this ninth-grade diploma isn't going to help me much in life. I'm not bitter about it, it's not your fault. But I'm just not going to do things this way." Again, Richard has triumphed over an adult, this time simply by defying an adult's decree and doing the right thing. Being an independent and rebellious youth, Richard also became a success due to his intelligence. Richard's intelligence was not only acquired but also gifted. As a very young boy without any formal education he already had a real hunger for knowledge and desired to learn all, and anything, he could. Richard's aptitude was first described in Black Boy at the age of four. One morning Mrs. Wright informed Richard that while she was at work coal that she ordered was to be delivered to the house and that Richard would be responsible for paying the man. When the coal man arrived with the delivery, Richard gave him the money that his mother had left. When the man asked how much change he owed Richard, Richard replied that he did not know, he could not count. So the man began to teach Richard to count. "He counted to ten and I listened carefully; then he asked me to count alone and I did. He then made me memorize the words twenty, thirty, forty etc., then told me to add one, two, three, and so on. In about an hour's time I had learned to count to a hundred...when my mother returned from her job that night I insisted that she stand still and listen while I counted to one hundred. She was dumbfounded. After that she taught me to read, told stories. On Sundays I would read the newspapers with my mother guiding me and spelling out the words."(pg.30) Richard had not only learned to count in less than an hour but he was also able to read the newspaper at the age of four. His ability to persevere also guided Richard toward his prosperity. There were many, many episodes in the life of Richard Wright that would have slowed down or completely halted most people; but not Richard himself. Richard was a fighter and no matter was obstacle he faced, he knocked it right down and continued. Like his characteristics of rebelliousness and intelligence, the perseverance in Richard's personality began at an exceedingly young age. Richard was four (as he was when his rebelliousness and intelligence were first discovered by the reader) when he faced his first physical interference in life. Richard's mother notified him that it would now be him job to do the shopping. The first time he was to do the shopping on his own, Richard set on his way with his basket on his arm. When he reached the corner he was suddenly knocked down and robbed by a gang of boys. Richard ran home and told his mother. She sent him right back out again. This time the boy's beat! him and again took his money. When Richard returned home again his mother's reaction was not what he expected. "Don't you come in here...You just stay right where you are. I'm going to teach you this night to stand up and fight for yourself....Don't you come into this house until you've gotten those groceries."(pg.24) She handed Richard some more money, and a stick, told him that if the boys bothered him again to fight back and then she sent him on his way. We the boys attacked him again Richard fought back and sent them running home to their mothers. Richard was taught perseverance by his mother, and that stuck with him throughout his life as one of his top qualities. To sum things up, the rebellious nature in Richard Wright was a main reason why he was able to overcome his background and become a successful writer. The fact that he was independent, intelligent, and had sense of perseverance also aided in his mastery. By reading Black Boy it becomes clear to the reader how life can before not only a black boy in the Jim Crow self but how vexatious it can be for any pre-judged minority. Black Boy is able to teach readers how-to and how-not-to treat people. The story of Richard Wright will presumably teach someone who is racist that there is no place in the world for racism. Richard is able to show the reader that people all have the same feelings and are as alike on the inside as they are different on the outside.


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