Characters and Themes in Black Boy
The novel, Black Boy is Richard Wright's autobiographical account of his life beginning with his earliest memories and ending with his departure for the North at age nineteen. In Black Boy, Wright tells of an unsettled family life that takes him from Natchez, Mississippi, to Memphis, Tennessee, back to Jackson, Mississippi, then to Arkansas, back again to Mississippi, and finally to Memphis once more, where he prepares for his eventual migration to Chicago.
Most critics agree that Black Boy is a highly selective account, more selective than the term "record" in its subtitle suggests. At the time Wright wrote Black Boy, he was already an accomplished author of fiction. He had published a collection of short stories called Uncle Tom's Children and the highly successful novel Native Son. Wright chose carefully the experiences he includes in Black Boy, the ones he highlights, and the tone in which he writes about them. Many readers even think that he invents some of the incidents. Most agree, however, that Wright crafts his autobiography for the precise impact he wants.
Of course, the central character of Black Boy is young Richard Wright. To distinguish between this young character and the author looking back on him many years later and even occasionally inventing incidents about him, this guide follows the standard practice of referring to the former as "Richard" and the latter as "Wright." Wright presents Richard rebellious youth. Usually hungry and malnourished, he loves to retreat into the imaginary world of the novels he reads. Richard refuses to accept the strict religion of his grandmother and even rejects his mother's more moderate religious faith. As he gets older, he also stands up to the discipline his aunts and uncles impose on him and threatens to retaliate with physical violence. Later, the feisty, independent spirit Richard develops at home leads him to refuse to accept the codes of behavior the white world has set for Southern blacks. And when Richard finally decides to become a writer, that career represents a declaration of independence from those in the black community who ridiculed his ambitions and a declaration of war on the white racists who have oppressed him.
In the early chapters of Black Boy, the other important characters
are the members of Richard's family. Richard's female relatives are
more significant in his life than the males. His mother...