Themes and Narration in “Black Boy” by Richard Wright Essay

June 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Sep 1st, 2020


Richard Wright was a writer whose works were greatly appreciated by the public. His book Black Boy is an autobiographical story. This text is about the life of a person haunted by feelings of fear and loneliness since childhood. The purpose of this paper is to review and analyze the book “Black Boy” by Richard Wright.

Racist Beliefs

The book by Wright portrays the delirious effects of racist beliefs through the exposure of moral and psychological consequences of racial discrimination. The events show that in the conditions of racism, the psychological deformation of a person occurs due to the formation of a feeling of inferiority in him or her and the cultivation of fear (Shakir and Reddy 460). Moreover, the author shows that such an environment develops the psychology of revenge in a person.

Growing up in Jim Crow South was similar to the process of dehumanization. In this environment, the black color of skin implied that this person would not be suitable for anything else except for the lowest type of work (Kiuchi and Hakutani 157). Therefore, the main manifestation of racism was reflected in the depictions of societal oppression. For instance, when Richard saw that a white man was beating a “black boy” he assumed that the man was his father and he was punishing his son for something (Wright 22). However, it turned out that the boy was not related to the man. Therefore, Richard had to face the fact that a white adult person harassing a black child was the norm in society.

Another example was the young Richard noticing that people were divided not only psychologically but also physically. Black people were forced to take a separate bus line, which was one of the manifestations of Jim Crow laws aimed at stressing the inferiority of this population group. In addition, in one of the chapters, men were talking about war, and one of them said that African-Americans were used as a physical force to defend the country (Wright 54). Therefore, the state wanted to make the full use of them as if their lives did not matter. Another manifestation of racism was the common belief that such activities as studies were considered a privilege, which was unavailable to black residents.

Endemic Violence

The endemic violence was connected to all aspects of human life; therefore, it affected both Richard’s relationships with his family members, his peers, and the community in general. Since violence was present at almost every level of society, it was transformed into a tool (Ramteke 71). For instance, the boy’s mother and grandmother would hit Richard to show him that he did not behave properly. Also, the boy’s mother taught Richard to fight back to secure his rights and defend his position (Wells 127). When several boys were torturing Richard, his mother told him, “If those boys bother you, then fight” (Wright 15). Thus, the family did not only utilize violence as a method of education but also encouraged the underage person to become violent as well because it would be a correct reaction to the events.

Overall, violence was a significant part of life because it helped people to survive. For this reason, it became the norm of life, and young children believed that harassing others was a common way of interaction (Makombe 291). Richard had to confront both his family and community members. He had to beat other boys to be accepted at school and had to threaten his family members with a knife to cease beating. Therefore, the endemic violence had resulted in the fact that people were forced to become violent if they wanted to be independent.

Status Quo

Throughout the book, Richard defies both the Black and White world. He did it not only to challenge the status quo but also to receive humane treatment. He was an individual with a particular viewpoint, and he was unwilling to change his beliefs despite the efforts of society. For instance, in the South, where the black members of the community were oppressed, Richard struggled against the dominant culture. When the boy moved to his grandmother’s place, he was forced to follow the strict religious practices propagated there. Nevertheless, he was reluctant to accept the values of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and found his true spirituality in education and reading (Wright 100). When he lived in the North, he fought against the oppression from the side of white and black society members.

When he was graduating from school, the young man also had to challenge the status quo. The principal threatened that Richard would not graduate from the institution if he did not pronounce the official speech (Wright 176). Despite this challenge, Richard did not abandon his views and read the speech that he had prepared. Apart from that, the man affronted the Communist Party. Richard decided to quit the Party when he was given an ultimatum either to act the way they were demanding or to be expelled from the group.

Value of Reading and Knowledge

Reading and knowledge, in general, were the two domains that added meaning to Richard’s life. The man believed that education was a source of understanding of the world around him; therefore, Richard would go to school and borrow the library card from another person to satisfy his hunger for knowledge (Wright 258). Importantly, sustained knowledge was the tool for challenging the existing social construct. The young man used to live in the area where Jim Crow laws had resulted in compliance with Richard’s family with the limitations (Wright 261). Nonetheless, he did not want to share a similar fate and resorted to reading and writing to find his individual place in society and to eliminate the barriers imposed by the system.

Importantly, without reading, Richard would not be able to start writing to express his position. Sustained knowledge taught him the correct emotional responses (for instance, the story about an Indian girl) and provided him with an understanding of the world (Wright 118). Richard had received an incentive to start expressing his personal thoughts, which helped him make meaning of himself.

Style and Tone of Narration

The book is an autobiography; nevertheless, the style and tone do not follow a strict or formal structure. It is a series of flashbacks supported by the author’s explanations. The writer uses such expressions as “one day” to introduce new stories, which produce an impression as if the author had selected one story out of many other events, which could fit into the situation (Wright 7). The narration is different at various stages of Wright’s life. When he describes the events from childhood, the reader can observe the curiosity of the writer by his descriptions of situations when he gets in trouble. However, the narration transforms into a reflection when Richard becomes older. Notably, the fact that the story is told from Wright’s perspective solely does not interfere with the reader’s interpretation of events since the details provided allow drawing objective conclusions about the setting.


Thus, the book Black Boy is a source of understanding the way societal oppression has affected people. The writing reflects the moral, ethical, and social problems of society that individuals had to face and overcome. The reader can track the psychological and cultural evolution of the author and appreciate the importance of freedom, equality, and education for human life.

Works Cited

Kiuchi, Toru, and Yoshinobu Hakutani. Richard Wright: A Documented Chronology, 1908-1960. McFarland, 2014.

Makombe, Rodwell. “Apartheid, Crime, and Interracial Violence in “Black Boy”.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 44, no. 3, 2013, pp. 290-313.

Ramteke, Pallavi T. “A Comparative Study of Human and Societal Values in the Novels of Aravindadiga, Richard Wright and Mulk Raj Anand.” International Journal of Advanced System and Social Engineering Research, vol. 3, no. 3, 2013, pp. 68-77.

Shakir, Mutaz Tarik, and Chenna Reddy. “The Problems of Black Identity in Richard Wright’s Black Boy.” International Journal of English Language Literature and Translation Studies, vol. 4, no. 3, 2017, pp. 459-464.

Wells, Ira. Fighting Words: Polemics and Social Change in Literary Naturalism. University of Alabama Press, 2013.

Wright, Richard. Black Boy. Vintage Books, 2017.

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