Black Boy

Black Boy Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapters 6-10

At school, Richard hears of an available job as a chore boy for a white woman. When she interview him for the job, the woman asks Richard if he steals, which he replies unwittingly with what the woman considers a "sassy" answer. The next morning after his work, the woman leaves Richard breakfast on the table: stale bread and moldy molasses. When he tells the woman he wants to be a writer, she asks: "Who on earth put such ideas into your nigger head?" Richard does not return to the job but instead takes a job with another white family, running errands and serving food.

Tired after work, Richard is unable to keep up his studies. But at midday recess, he is able to buy his own lunch and show off his new clothes. His mother begins to recover and is well enough to attend a Methodist Church, tot he disapproval of Granny. Richard accompanies his mother to church not to gain religion, but to socialize with his classmates. When the church holds a revival, Richard feels pressure to be accepted by the community by "finding God." On the last day of the revival, the congregation sings hymn and the deacon begs mothers to go to their sons and beg for their conversion. Finding religion became a matter of public pride for Richard and his mother, and he consents to baptism.

When summer comes near, Ella suffers another stroke of paralysis. Needing money, Granny and Aunt Addie decide to rent the upstairs to Uncle Tom's family. One day, Uncle Tom asks Richard for the time. When Richard's tone of voice displeases his uncle, Tom threatens to give Richard the whipping of his life. Defiant and horrified, Richard takes two razor blades and threatens to cut his uncle. After an emotional confrontation, Uncle Tom walks away from Richard.

Chapter 6 Analysis:

An integral part of Richard's maturation is learning how to interact with others, including white people. Before his job, Richard has never really been informed about the relationship between whites and blacks. In his childhood, the value placed on one's race was learned second-hand, from his relatives, peers, and elders. When he takes his first job in the home of the white woman, Richard experiences first-hand the prejudices he has only heard or dreamed about. He is treated without respect and without human decency; Richard realizes that because he is black, he is not expected to set goals for himself, to achieve, or to succeed. It may seem that the white woman simply echoes what Richard's relatives have some to believe, but her words are ten times worse because it is an opinion based on speculation and assumption.

Perhaps worst of all, Richard realizes that to survive in the white world, he must be broken of his will. Before his job, Richard had been shielded within the black community. After being scolded and deprecated by the white woman, he learns that whites expect him to be subservient and stupid. Anything else would be considered "sassy." Richard refuses to return to his first job - where the woman served him stale and moldy food - out of pride. But he must learn that he cannot run away from prejudice. The racism he encountered at his first job is prevalent everywhere in the South and Richard must learn to react.

His desire to not conform is tested within the black community as well, with his mother's pressures to be baptized. Wright recalls that his baptism was not a matter of religious belief, but of social pressure and acceptance. The church, he claimed, exploited every relationship: mother-to-son, brother-to-brother, and friend-to-friend. In the end, Richard consents to baptism. But along with the other baptized boys, Richard feels no different than before. It is ironic that his baptism - what is considered a "rebirth" in the eyes of God - leads to Richard's eventual rejection of religion.

Chapter 7 Summary:

The year is 1924 and Richard obtains a job in a brickyard bringing pails of water to the thirsty black laborers. One day, Richard is bit in the thigh by the white boss's dog. Afraid of infection, Richard reports the bite to the supervisor but receives no medical attentions. "A dog bite can't hurt a nigger," replies a white man. Luckily, the swelling passes and he escapes infection.

School opens and Richard's hunger grows. Out of idleness, he composes a short story called "The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre." Although he receives no pay, the story is published in a local black newspaper. When his fellow students read the story, they don't understand Richard's motivation for writing and Richard grows more isolated. His relatives are highly critical, believing the story to be the Devil's work. But Richard's dream of writing continues to grow, despite the educational system in the South and the stifling Jim Crow laws.

Chapter 7 Analysis:

Little by little with his increasing interaction with white people, Richard learns more about their dismissive attitude towards black people. He is treated inhumanely when he is not given medical attention for the dog bite. Whites carry the attitude that black laborers are unsusceptible to anything.

When "The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre" is published, nobody can comprehend Richard's accomplishment. He receives only negative feedback. It is ironic that one of Richard's most meaningful achievements serves only to isolate him more from his environment. Instead of praise, Richard is seen as different. Wright reflects upon the fact that racism and prejudice are products not only of the attitude of whites in the South, but are products of the educational system. Black children are taught in ignorance, given no goals or motivation grow as intellectuals. To Wright, the educational system he grew up in with was corrupted, geared to teach subservience.

Chapter 8 Summary:

It is summer again and Richard inquires of Mrs. Bibbs - his employer - whether her husband has a job opening at the sawmill. The next day, Richard is warned by a black saw mill worker about the dangers of the business, revealing his own hand with three fingers missing. Richard leaves and does not return.

One afternoon, Richard sees Ned Greenley, his classmate, sitting on his porch. He learns that Ned's brother, Bob, has been murdered by some white men. Bob had been a hotel porter and the men had not approved of his activities with a white prostitute. Richard becomes more conscious about the brutality and conduct of the racially oppressed South.

One day after Richard has been talking to his cousin Maggie, he overhears Uncle Tom scolding Maggie for conversing with him. He warns Maggie that Richard is a "dangerous fool" and expects her "to keep away." Richard grows more aware of the isolation between himself and his own family. When Richard's brother, Leon, returns home, he is aware that the family seems to love and approve of Leon more than they do of him.

At the end of the school term, Richard is selected as valedictorian of his class and is asked to present a speech at graduation. When the principal summons him into his office and hands him an already prepared speech, Richard is stunned. He refuses to give the principal's speech, despite pressure from his family and peers. Even Griggs, another boy in school, has decided to recite on of the principal's speeches. But on the day of graduation, Richard does not care. He delivers his speech, dressed in a new suit, and immediately leaves the platform afterwards.

Chapter 8 Analysis:

The murder of Bob Greenley is elevated to myth-like status in the mind of Richard Wright. Because he has never witnessed the racial brutality and misconduct of Southern whites, his fears are elevated the way a small child is afraid of the Boogie Man. But for Richard, the situation is real: he must learn to behave "correctly" for his the sake of his own life. Richard, however, is still strong-willed, evidenced by his refusal to recite the principal's speech.

In this chapter, we also see that Richard's isolation from his family becomes more apparent to him when he accidentally overhears Uncle Tom scolding Maggie. Although his relatives are a constant source of negative feedback, his isolation from his own family can be seen as a source of Richard's strength. At his young age, he has learned out of necessity to be independent and willing to fight.

Chapter 9 Summary:

Anxious to earn money, Richard works as a porter in a clothing store catered toward "Negroes on credit." One morning, he witnesses the boss and his son drag a black woman into the back of the store to rape her. In another incident, Richard is beaten with a whiskey bottle and fists by some white boys whom he forgets to address as "sir." Each day, hatred builds in Richard for the white people. The boss's son even fires Richard for not laughing and talking "like the other niggers."

On day, Richard runs into his old classmate, Griggs, who criticizes him for not learning to get around "white folks." Griggs warns him to think before he speaks, to think before he acts. Griggs reveals that underneath his innocent demeanor, he too hates white people. He also obtains Richard a position as an intern in an optical shop.

The boss of the optical shop, Mr. Crane, is a Yankee and hires Richard immediately. Reynolds and Pease are two white men who work in the shop and cause nothing but trouble for Richard, who truly wishes to learn the trade. Both make degrading racial comments in front of Richard and threaten to kill him for failing to call Pease by "Mister Pease" (even when Richard had not forgotten). Richard leaves the job out of fear. Richard cries on his walk home from work.

Chapter 9 Analysis:

Richard experiences racial violence firsthand when he begins to work in town. Inexperienced in his new environment, Richard finds it difficult to act "properly" the way Griggs acts. Growing up with broken schooling and in the black community, Richard has learned to be self-sufficient and defiant. Even when he tries to conform, he is not subservient enough. Racism is bred by ignorance, and Wright portrays that to survey, a black man must act as ignorant as his white counterpart. A black man must laugh and talk, and act grateful towards a white man; it is not enough to simply be subordinate. Richard must learn to mask his hatred and true feelings to be able to survive.

In the optical shop, we see that Richard's hunger - his yearning of intellect and knowledge - still runs strong. This is why he has the audacity to approach Pease and Reynolds regarding his job. Wright compares Richard to a blind man. The metaphor not only describes the flood of tears that blinds Richard, but how Richard himself is still blind to the Southern oppression. Richard, in spite of his environment, still wishes to learn and set goals for himself.

Chapter 10 Summary:

Richard's next job is that of a helper in a drugstore. But without knowing the right words to say to his white boss, he loses his job soon enough. He grows more conscious of the roles that other Black Boys assume in their jobs. Soon, Richard takes a job as a hall boy at the same hotel where Bob Greenley had worked. At his job, Richard socializes with the other black workers. One night, when walking one of the maids home, the white watchman slaps her on the behind. To avoid confrontation, Richard must obey the watchman and ignore the slap.

Determined to make more money, Richard decides to sacrifice his morals to save more money. He begins to bootleg liquor to sell to white prostitutes in the hotel. Soon, Richard quits his job at the hotel to take a job at the theater in town, where he is involved in a ring for scamming tickets. Richard is a ticket collector, and he saves the tickets to re-sell them at the front counter. Quickly, he amasses enough move money to move out on his own. He does so, promising to send for his mother when he earns enough money.

Chapter 10 Analysis:

Chapter 10 represents a pivotal moment in Richard's life because he realizes that in order to survive the South, he must obey rather than challenge those who suppress him. It is then that he realizes in order to accomplish his goals, he must leave for the North.

Richard comes to realize the social cycle in the relationship between whites and blacks. The black workers that Richard observes fall into stealing and cheating because they feel justified by the poor treatment they receive from their white bosses. In turn, the white bosses feel justified in their racist attitude by black workers who cheat and steal.