Richard Wright’s novel, Black Boy
In Richard Wright’s novel, Black Boy, Richard is struggling to survive in a racist environment in the South. In his youth, Richard is vaguely aware of the differences between blacks and whites. He scarcely notices if a person is black or white, and views all people equally. As Richard grows older, he becomes more and more aware of how whites treat blacks, the social differences between the races, and how he is expected to act when in the presence of white people. Richard, with a rebellious nature, finds that he is torn between his need to be treated respectfully, with dignity and as an individual with value and his need to conform to the white rules of society for survival and acceptance.
As a child growing up in the Jim Crow South, Richard is faced with constant pressure to conform to the white authority. However, even from an early age, Richard has a strong spirit of rebellion. The black community reacts to his rebellion disapprovingly, and Richard suffers intense isolation and loneliness during the early years of his life, feeling that he does not fit in or belong with his family or the black community. An example of Richard’s rebelliousness because of his attempts to gain respect and equality is shown when he is selected as the valedictorian of his graduating class and he is asked to deliver a speech. The principal calls him to his office and tells him to recite a speech that the principal wrote himself, saying that Richard needs to recite his speech because he is going to be speaking in front of white people and it is important to make a good impression. Richard, of course, refuses the principal’s speech and recites his own, despite the disapproving feelings of his peers and elders. Richard tells the principal, “I know I’m not educated, professor. But the people are coming to hear the students, and I won’t make a speech that you’re written” (Wright 193). Richard did not understand until later that the black community discouraged his rebellious ways because following the expectations of whites was a way to ensure survival of the community. A rebellious act of one black not only put his or her life in danger, but also his or her family and the entire black community. Richard’s need to conform to the rules of the white society for survival and his need to rebel in order to achieve his humanity and individuality was a tension that infested him daily.
In a quest for a sense of belonging and success in life as well as a need for survival and money from a steady job, Richard attempts to conform to the social rules of those around him and the expectations of how he must behave like a...