Book review of Richard Wright's Black Boy, 1945
"I have never seen any part of the world where it seemed to me the masses of Negro People would be better off than right here in these Southern States"
- Booker T. Washington -
Published in 1945, Richard Wright's autobiographical novel Black Boy was to prove the contrary. It documented prejudice and oppression caused by the Jim Crow laws in the Deep South in the early twentieth century. It is an account of the difficult road of an African American, who was convinced to have greater destiny than that of a stereotypical black person, the white people tried to transform him into.
Wright tells the violent and disturbing story of his own life between the years 1908 and 1934 when he lived in the southern states of Mississippi and Tennessee.
One is struck by the extreme cruelty and hardship he faced while only an emotionally vulnerable child and adolescent. As Wright generalizes his own experiences to show how the society functioned at the time, one may wonder how many individuals were crushed by similar circumstances.
In this book review I represent and analyze the three themes I found the most significant in the novel.
The theme of alienation is developed throughout the novel. From the early days of his life, Richard feels isolated from his family and mistrust characterizes his childhood. As his relatives refuse to understand his different visions of life and are annoyed by his thirst for knowledge, they paradoxically become young Richard's first suppressors. Richard's feeling of alienation comes out in rebellion. Only at the age of four Richard sets his own house in fire and little later kills an innocent kitten to protest against his fathers strict authority. The matter of religion is particularly controversial in his grandmother's household where Richard has to live since his mother's serious illness. Richard receives intense and often seemingly unreasonable beatings from his mother and grandmother, moreover, the members of his family are extremely religious and base their life principally on the word of the bible.
Perhaps because of his natural distrust Richard remains unaffected by the religion, he simply does not feel anything and is hence considered dead by his grandmother and aunt.
As years pass by Richard's alienation increases in relation to the black community and the white world. Wright seems to criticize the subdued members of the black community who silently accept the white rule over them. The role model the southern whites have introduced for the blacks is so dominant that when Richard's first short story is published in a black newspaper, instead of receiving compliments he is regarded as weird and he becomes even more isolated from the community. His grandmother accuses him of lying and condemns his fiction as devil's work. It is this sense of isolation that drives Richard towards writing. Later in his life he grows to...