According to Oray (2013), the autobiography of Richard Wright, a Black Boy is a real tale filled with hope and determination for good life in the future. The autobiography of Wright illustrates the life of this young black boy who is growing up during the Jim Crow South. The life of Wright has depicted economic as well as social challenges that reflected stereotypical issues for the African Americans during this error of civil war. The hardship followed Wright to his teenage, examining the problems and obstacles experienced by thought Richard Wright and his family. The history of Wright is full of difficulties and barriers induced by his poverty-stricken family, but Wright is entirely focused and determined to escape from the prison formed by his environmental and socioeconomic circumstances (Evans, 2011). Throughout the life of Wright, he is full of hunger, not only hunger of food but the hunger of acceptance, love and realizing the world nearby him. However, most importantly, Wright is entirely in hunger for knowledge. The complicated life of that all-black communities face is reflected through the main character Wright, as his entire life is dominated by the desire for education, the need for love and full acceptance among peers.
The study conducted by Evans (2011) suggests that Wright’s struggle with the hunger for knowledge and food originates from his poverty-stricken family. Wright’s family could not afford to offer attributes such as love, security, and acceptance that are provided by the family. In most cases, the interaction at the family level was directly opposite of the expected. The grown-ups including his parents in the family mostly argued with Wrights and preferred not to interact with him. For instance, Wright’s Aunt Addie and the school teacher struggles were epitomized of his difficulty. Both at school and home Wright experienced painful treatment. The altercation made his Auntie Addie to decline talks with him to which Wright responses: “I was conscious that she had descended to my emotional level to rule me, and my respect for her sank”(Wright, 2008, Pg. 110). The opinion held by Wright towards her Aunt Addie reflects his perception towards the whole family. As a result, Wright feels like an outsider in the family with no rights and enjoyment of the privileges offered by the family.
Wright get used to ill-treatment by the family and the world outside to the extent that when the family members become compassionate to him, he starts doubting their motives. “The entire family became kind and forgiving, but I knew the motives that prompted their change, and it drove me an even greater emotional distance from them.” (Wright, 2008, Pg. 113). Wright becomes emotionally far with his family. However, despite the distance, and regardless of the antagonistic and demoralizing encounter experienced by Wright in his family and the world around, Wright can maintain his hunger for a brilliant and better life in the future.
Even among his peers, Wright cannot comprehend the hunger for love and acceptance. Other Black-African boys and peers never understood him and his attitude. He also never understand their positions (Wright, 2000). Resultantly, Wright doesn’t fit among his peers. Even though Wright hungers to fit socially with his peers and the community, his inability to concede to their perspectives makes the struggles unfruitful. “I longed to be among them, yet when with them I looked at them as if they were a million miles away. I had been kept out of their world too long ever to be able to become a real part of it.” (Wright, 2008, Pg. 151). Wright’s hunger for acceptance influences the hunger for understanding because it exaggerates his incapability of fitting anywhere in the social structure. Wright never understood his personality because he feared to express his inner impressions, thoughts, and opinions. As a result, he feels hanging freely in a void. The void is making him a lonely being where he is left empty of love and acceptance from the peers and the family as well.
The agonies experienced by Wright are facilitated by his inability to comprehend the racial difference between the African-Americans and the White Americans. That why Wright says “I wanted to understand these two sets of people who lived side by side and never touched, except in violence”( Wright, 2008, Pg. 47). He has tried to inquire for the answers from the nearby adults but could not get satisfying responses. Although at first he never accepted the fact that whites were treated in decency and dignity compared to blacks, he finally learns how to recognize the world around the way it is. For Wright, he cannot fathom the difference between the blacks and the whites and can understand why he should treat white differently from the blacks (Bloom, 2006). This escalated his problem with the world, especially in the workplace. Because he has never accepted the differences between the whites and the blacks, finding and maintaining the job becomes stressful.
Turner (2009) claims that the greatest and the most prudent hunger experienced by Wright was the hunger for knowledge. Understanding the basis of the discriminative social structures between the whites and the blacks. This type of hunger makes Wright a unique character among the Black Americans. As a result, the hunger is making him create a sharper wedge between him and the family as well as the community around. However, despite him being a loner, his desire for knowledge shapes the life of Wright by giving him the sense of direction and the meaning of life. His hunger started to grow when still a young man. His first real bite of the world knowledge came from the coal dealer who teaches him how to earn some hundreds. The next bite of knowledge was from the schoolteacher known as Ella who read him a story. It is at this point when his real hunger for further understanding emerged.
The sensation prompted by the schoolteacher and the coal man increases his present curiosity for knowledge. The excitement assisted Wright to acknowledge his love and demand for literature. However, Wright never gains the opportunity to acquire decent formal education because of the racial discrimination during the Jim Crow South (Skin & Masks, 1967). From a protracted struggle in the street education, Wright acquired a public schooling ticket. The street was not his cruel classroom setting; while the schools provided him with cold dose to his endeavor/reality. Even though Wright secured a place in public schools where he satisfied his hunger and curiosity for excelling, his family never supported him and made his time challenging to manage the studies. He even starved and skipped meals at home to have more extended hours of acquiring knowledge, especially during his final formal education level. “To starve to learn about my environment was irrational, but so were my hunger” (Wright, 2008, Pg. 127). Wright is never able of receiving consistent and standard formal education where the formal education he received, just as any other Black American was substandard and full of contention. Regardless of this nature, Wright holds and maintains his lane and continues to learn and quench his hunger for knowledge (Turner, 2009).
After graduation, Wright’s thirst and hunger for education (Knowledge) doesn’t end. He flees to Memphis to evade the environmental oppression (Skin & Masks, 1967). While at Memphis, Wright reads anything he could obtain to feed his hunger. Fortunately, Wright meets a sympathetic Jewish man who offers him a library card. With the access to a stocked library, Wright can feed his hunger. The books opened up Wright’s world and completely changed his perception. Wright claims, “In buoying me up, reading also cast me down, made me see what was possible, what I had missed” (Wright, 2000, Pg. 251). The new knowledge about the world intensified his demand and urged for greater understanding.
In conclusion, Wright’s hunger cannot be satisfied. The understanding of the world around humanity cannot be read from the books. The more he feeds his knowledge’s hunger, the more his hunger escalates. A sense of revelation of knowledge exposes Wright to the world he had never experienced before, thus, creating more profound and more questions and demand for more education. Therefore, Wright’s hunger for knowledge is infinitely structured (Fabre, 1993).
Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2006). Richard Wright’s Black Boy. Infobase Publishing.
Evans, C. (2011). Richard Wright’s depiction of the black experience: a study in stereotypes.
Fabre, M. (1993). The unfinished quest of Richard Wright. University of Illinois Press.
Oray, P. B. (2013). Another layer of blackness: theorizing race, ethnicity, and identity in the US black public sphere.
Skin, B., & Masks, W. (1967). Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove.
Turner, S. J. (2009). An Insatiable Hunger: A Literary Analysis of Richard Wright’s Autobiography,” Black Boy.” Inquiries Journal, 1(12).
Wright, R. (2000). Black boy: A record of childhood and youth. Random House.
Wright, R. (2008). Black Boy. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics. Print.