Black Boy

What differences between town blacks and plantation black does Richard become aware of through his job selling insurance?

Chapter 5

Asked by
Last updated by jill d #170087
Answers 1
Add Yours

Richard’s travels with the insurance salesman make his life look rich in comparison to the lives of the sharecroppers. The poverty and illiteracy that mar the lives of blacks on the plantations demonstrate that Richard’s literacy and worldly wisdom—the wisdom gained by moving so frequently from place to place—are real, if hard-won, blessings. However, when we consider the painful, glaring poverty Richard endures, we realize how truly terrible the conditions of the sharecroppers’ existence must be. In this way, Richard’s travels with the insurance man provide an interesting context for thinking about what might have happened to Richard. After all, Richard himself is the son of a sharecropper and could easily have turned out just like the people he visits.

Grandpa’s endless battle with the War Department raises ethical questions about the American government. Although we do not actually see the letters that Grandpa receives after submitting his pension claim, we assume that they use official- and objective-sounding language to assert that Grandpa’s claims are unsubstantiated and must be rejected. Wright’s reference to the rumor that a white Southern officer deliberately misspelled Grandpa’s name, however, adds a sinister aspect to the government action, casting doubt on the supposedly objective nature of its official business. Wright strengthens that doubt by dwelling on Grandpa’s illiteracy, as we realize that bureaucracy and paperwork make it especially easy for the government to take advantage of illiterate people. Wright implies that Grandpa’s bureaucratic troubles might be explained, at least in part, by the fact that he is black, illiterate, and therefore vulnerable to attack in America.