Black Boy

Black Boy Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapters 18-20

One Thursday night, Richard is invited to join a group of white boys whom he met at the post office to talk about politics, argue, eat and drink. Many of the boys have joined the Communist Party, and one day a boy named Sol announces that one of his short stories is going to be published in a Communist journal. Sol, a member of the John Reed Club ­ a Communist literary organization ­ tries to convince Richard to attend one of their meetings. Richard is doubtful whether the Community Party has any sincere interest in the black community, but finally attends one of the Chicago John Reed Club meetings out of boredom. He is given a handful of Communist magazines and is encouraged to participate in Left Front, one of their journals. Richard decides that he will try to humanize Communism to the common man through his writing, and composes a few verses that are accepted by some of the Communist publications.

Richard begins to attend more of the meetings, and he realizes that the club has factional disputes, or fights between club members. The disputes are between the writers (those who are mainly in charge of Left Front) and the painters. Richard is elected as executive secretary to satisfy both of the groups. He tries to satisfy everybody on top of trying to keep Left Front published, though the Communist Party members think that the publication is useless.

One day, a young Jewish man who introduces himself as Comrade Young attends one of the Chicago meetings, stating that he has just moved from Detroit. Without money, Young asks Richard if he can use the John Reed Club headquarters for lodging. Thinking that Young is sincere and loyal, Richard agrees. Young impresses the best painters in the club with his artwork and becomes admired by all. Richard tries to contact the Detroit chapter to ask for information of Young, but he gets no reply. At one meeting, Young accuses Swann ­ one of the club's best young artists ­ of being a traitor to the workers. Chaos and verbal battles ensue within the club until Comrade Young disappears mysteriously. One afternoon, Richard and Comrade Grimm search the luggage that Young left behind at the club. They find a Detroit address, to which Richard writes and asks for news about Young. A few days later, he receives a reply from a mental institution saying that Young had previously escaped but was apprehended and back in custody. All charges against Swann were dropped and Richard, along with some other trusted members of the club, keeps the information about Young a secret from the others.

Chapter 18 Analysis:

In the previous chapter, we see that Richard loses some of his cynicism and gains a little hope that the black community can unite to overcome their obstacles. His hope becomes manifested in his involvement with the Communist Party. Although the ideals of the Communist Party appeal to Richard, he is somewhat naïve when he places his faith in a political institution. Richard believes that he can single-handedly unify the political and cultural needs of black society through his words. But he seems to be underqualified to act as an executive secretary.

The incident with Comrade Young shows that Richard is still scared to speak his mind, one reason why he fails to question Young about his past in Detroit. In fact, Young's own hinting that he is involved with the Central Committee is enough to cause most of the club members to not question his presence. We see that even within the organization, there exists paranoia, anxiety, and factional disputes. How does an organization that is inherently unstable strive to unify society at large?

Chapter 19 Summary:

Now a full-fledged member of the Communist Party, Richard attends a secret unit ­ the party's basic form of organization ­ meeting and proposes his idea to write a book of biographical sketches of black Communists. The members, despite Richard's background, label him an "intellectual" because of hi proper speech and dress. Richard also learns that the unit does not approve of him reading materials outside of Party literature, claiming that other literature is bourgeois, or not for the masses. Richard begins to fear their militant ignorance.

Richard begins to interview Ross, a communist who had been charged with "inciting to riot," for his biographical book. But he begins to receive threats from party leaders with messages such as: "Intellectuals don't fit well into the party, Wright." One morning in Ross's home, a black Communist named Ed Green arrives and begins to question Richard. Green is a member of the Party's Central Committee ­ a man with power ­ and is suspicious of Richard's work. As days pass, Ross begins to speak less and less to Richard. Soon afterward, Ross is charged with anti-leadership tendencies. Richard drops his idea of making a book of biographical sketches and instead, uses his material from Ross to write short stories.

Thereafter, the Party leaders decide to disband all clubs and assign writers to composing party pamphlets and other propaganda. Richard begins to tear himself away from the party. Buddy Nealson, a member of the Communist International, is sent to Chicago to take over the black Communist movement. Nealson launches a campaign to rid the party of all "Negro Trotskyite elements," in other words, to rid the club of traitors to the party. In 1935, Richard attends a party conference in New York. In New York, the conference organizers are unable to find Richard a room to stay in because he is black. Dejected, Richard is defeated in the vote to maintain clubs and the John Reed Clubs are officially dissolved.

Free of party relations, Richard turns to his writing. He becomes aware that Buddy Nealson has accused him of being a party degenerate and a traitor. One day, Ed Green stops by to tell Richard that Buddy Nealson wishes to speak to him. When Richard goes to a meeting with Nealson, Nealson tries to recruit Richard back into the party to win the fight against Fascists. He orders Richard to organize a committee against the high cost of living. Though he wants to, Richard cannot bring himself to quit. He accepts the task.

One day, he is called to another meeting with Nealson and one of his friends, named Smith. Smith wishes to send Richard on a task in Switzerland, but Richard refuses to go. At the next unit meeting, Richard officially resigns from the party. The party shuns Richard and he is accused of being involved in a Trotskyite group. He is transferred from his work at the South Side Boys' Club to work in the Federal Negro Theatre as a publicity agent. Working with a talented Jewish director named Charles DeSheim, Richard sees that the theater's talents are going to waste and sets himself on producing a series of one-act plays about Negro life. But the actors picket, forcing DeSheim and Richard to accept their papers and leave the theater.

Transferred to white experimentalist theater as a publicity agent, Richard vows to keep his mouth shut, steer clear of black theater, and avoid and party members. One evening, a group of black communists invite Richard to attend a Sunday meeting, where Ross will be on trial for being a traitor. Richard attends the trial out of curiosity. After being charged with the crimes, Ross breaks down and says he is guilty while asking the party for forgiveness. Richard finds his submission amazing and feels that the entire party has become blind by corruption. He leaves the trial. Afterwards, only one party member named Harold has the courage to speak to Richard.

Chapter 19 Analysis:

Richard is fully entrenched in the Communist Party, fastened by the idea that he will be able to humanize the goals of the Communist movement by injecting their cause with black culture. However, it is ironic that the other party members consider Richard an intellectual and shun him because of his status. Richard joins the party because they are blind to race, but he does not consider that they are biased toward other socioeconomic factors, such as education. To Wright, this is astounding that they can label someone who has grown up in poverty as bourgeois. Their ignorance toward Richard's background serves to isolate him from the party and the Communist vision.

Even within the Communist Party, though, racism still exists. When Richard is unable to find a room at the conference in New York, he realizes it is because he is black. At that point, even Richard's notion that the Communist party has achieved his goal of racial unity is broken.

In Chapter 19, Wright juxtaposes himself with Ross, the party member accused of anti-leadership behavior and inciting to riot. Both Ross and Wright are accused of being traitors to the party, but Ross is placed on trial and is somehow "broken" in spirit. We see that Richard is able to maintain his strong will, despite his inability to stand his ground within the party. Why does Ross break down? One reason is Richard's already growing isolation from the party and the black community. Whereas Ross is dependent on his peers for social and emotional support, Richard is able to survive on his own and in loneliness ­ the way he has done for almost his entire life.

Chapter 20 Summary:

Richard was transferred from the Federal Experimental Theater to the Federal Writers' Project, writing guidebooks. Many of his co-workers are Communist members, but they are not allowed to speak to him because he has been deemed a traitor. One day the project administrator calls Richard into the office and informs him that several of his co-workers are trying to drive Richard away from his job. Richard learns that his dismissal from the theater project was also related to his relations with the party. His boss refuses to dismiss Richard based on politics. Meanwhile, Richard's co-workers call him profane names.

Richard decides to end everything by making an appointment with the head of the local Communist Party. But instead, he is only able to make an appointment with the secretary's secretary, a girl named Alma Zetkin. Zetkin says almost nothing to Richard and he leaves without accomplishing anything.

On May Day of 1936, the union votes that everybody should march in the procession. Following printed instructions of where to meet his correct group for the parade, Richard learns that he is 15 minutes late and is instructed to fall in anywhere. Richard is invited by a black communist ­ an old party friend ­ to march with the South Side Communist Section. When he is seen by Cy Perry ­ a white Communist ­ he is instructed to fall out of their ranks and leave the parade. Asking his black friend to speak up, Richard receives no support and is physically thrown out of the parade. From that day forth, Richard decides to fight back using words, fight back through his writing.

Chapter 20 Analysis:

Richard finally realizes the limitations of the Communist Party and their ignorance toward his own motivations. His final interaction with the Communist members of the South Side section pushes him over the edge because it not only combines their political ignorance but racial ignorance. Richard feels that Communism has distorted the racial issue facing the black community, and when his friend fails to speak back to Cy Perry, he sees it as akin to the racism he encountered in the South. Again, Richard's isolation is brought out. The May Day parade is a final turning point where Richard realizes that he may always be alone in his ideas and beliefs.

The novel ends when Richard finally realizes the incredible power that his words will eventually have. He decides that he will use his words as weapons, appealing to the humanistic and emotional qualities in man and society.

Despite the violent and depressing images presented in Black Boy, we see that Wright himself has shed his cynicism, ending with a note of hope. The song he quotes ("Arise, you wretched of the earthŠ a better world's in birth") expresses his new profound belief that eventually, society will rise above its ills and prejudices. Wright even shows his optimism by shedding the images of childhood and of the brutal South: "The days of my youth, were receding from me like a rolling tide, leaving me alone upon high, dry ground, leaving me with a quieter and deeper consciousness."