10.2.09

"Black Boy", by Richard Wright (New York, Harper Perennial)

Wright ends "Southern Night", the first part of "Black Boy" with his dreamed escape from the brutal south. "This was the culture from which I sprang", he states. He ends his profound narrative of growing up in a society of ignorance and hate with a hopeful note, albeit a naïve one. On reaching the north, Wright feels the onset of a "second childhood". Adulthood increased his responsibilities to his family, but also granted him a degree of freedom. Nonetheless, he finds again the same mechanisms of oppression when working on the hospital, after the Great Depression had set in. When he discovers the brotherhood of the John Reed club and its communist agitators, Wright is once again embraced by a family, but this time it's also a political structure and ideological machine. Always a spirited and free-thinking man, Wright clashes with the paranoid leaders and is again cast away from his family. Not surprisingly, he is antagonized by the white secretary of the party's leader on the last scene of "The Horror and the Glory": he has encountered the same system of hate and exclusion from which he fled. But this time, the older Wright is imbued with a strong sense of purpose. He has understood the true "hunger" of America, has seen the first seeds of rebellion against materialism. His denouncement of the persecutory ways of communists is ahead of its time and certainly a factor that influenced publication of only the first part, a neatly fitting modern story of slavery, suffering and self-determination. The second part gives the whole book a different, more profound meaning, increasing the layers of his struggle and bringing forth the true universality of life's tragedy that permeates the mood of "Black Boy",
an "inexpressibly" sense of true humanity, of hunger for life. Wright receives tempting offers from the party leaders in exchange for his loyalty, but he already has discovered his true hunger, that is to "hurl words into the darkness". The formation is complete – "Black Boy" can be read not only as poignant tale of freedom from slavery and mental servitude, but also as a writer's beautiful bildugsroman, as proposed by Mikhail Bakhtin: "the dynamical unity of a character's image".

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