The Power of Language in Richard Wright’s Black Boy
A stunning realization for Richard Wright in his autobiography Black Boy was the multifaceted uses of language; his words could offend, console, enrage, or be a fatal weapon. In Wright’s unceasing quest for knowledge, he discovers a strange world that makes him feel that he had “overlooked something terribly important in life.” He conveys his amazement at the literary realm through his metaphorical language and curiosity depicting his point of view.
To begin, when Wright reads Mencken’s work for the first time, he does not know how to react to his “clear, clean, sweeping sentences.” Wright compares Mencken to a “raging demon, slashing with his pen” that, like Wright, despises authority, but actually contains the audacity to laugh in its face. In a sense, Mencken was “fighting with words.” Wright compares words to weapons; he is frightened by the idea of such a comparison because he knows well that a wound inflicted by a sharp tongue can be extremely more painful than any physical malady suffered by men. In his own life, Wright has observed the destructive capabilities of language. Another extended metaphor in Black Boy is that of hunger as it relates to literature. For Wright, a craving for a fresh outlook or a new idea presented in a book could far outweigh the gnawing physical pangs he experienced most of his life. He comments how experience has beaten out of him his “impulse to dream”, and Mencken had restored that impulse for him. The ideas he gained from Mencken placed him far outside his social realm. Wright was misunderstood his entire life.
Thirsting for knowledge was not common in the black population, and a black boy doing so was disdained upon by the white population....