Black Boy Study Guide

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Black Boy By Richard Wright

Richard Wright's autobiography, Black Boy, is about a religious Mississippi family who controlled their son through guilt and powerlessness. Richard hated his father because, among other things, his father left his family for another woman. He described his father has 'mentally enslaved', and refused to have anything to do with him, even when his father offered him a comfortable place to live as his mother fought a dire sickness.

Finally, his family moved in with his grandmother, and for a while food was plentiful. Before long, however, Richard started drinking water all day to avoid hunger pangs a conditions changed. He knew he would have to start working at a young age to survive, but his grandmother's religious views conflicted with that ideal. Richard convinced his grandmother that his soul was already lost, thus she allowed him to get a job. This alienated him from most of his family, and his sick mother was his only ally.

Because his family moved so often to try to avoid poverty, Richard never had consistent schooling, but realized that he could teach himself if he had the materials. He began to read, and soon escaped into the world of horror stories and mysteries. He started writing his own short stories, strongly influenced by Edgar Allen Poe.

When Richard finally did reach graduation, he was elected valedictorian and delivered a speech in front of his graduating class. He worked full-time, and was able to support his ill mother and little brother.

Wright moved north to escape the horrible conditions of the South, only to learn that slave mentality and religion were hardly confined to Mississippi. He moved in with a mother and daughter who were simple-minded, as his father had been, and who decided immediately that he should marry the daughter and make a life for himself. He pitied them, and as he finally moved away to Chicago, he began a strong disillusionment with the American Dream, and ironically, a strong career as a writer.

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