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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Richard gets a job working for white people. Then he is baptized in his mother's church. Finally, he has another near-violent confrontation with a relative.
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For the first time, Richard is spending much time among whites, as a result of Granny's allowing him to work. At his first job interview, a woman asks him if he steals. After he gets the job doing house work, Richard works hard but discovers that his food is stale bread and moldy molasses. The woman employing him expresses surprise that a black boy would have any interest in staying in school, so he tells her of his ambition to be a writer. She wonders who put such crazy ideas in his head, and he decides to look for work elsewhere.
He doesn't like his next employer much better, and reflecting on these events, Wright wonders if he would have resented whites as much if he had entered the white world earlier and become used to their insults.
Richard also feels that he is excluded from the community life of the black world around him. He longs to participate, but he feels that he has already become too different from the others. He attends Sunday School, and the other students urge him to become a member of his mother's Methodist church. At one church service, he is pressured into agreeing to become baptized. The minister creates a situation where refusing baptism would mean rejecting his own mother in front of the entire congregation. Thus, he gives in, but religion still seems meaningless to him.
Because the family needs money, Uncle Tom and his family move in. One morning, Tom thinks that Richard has been rude to him and prepares to beat him. Richard will not let himself be beaten by a man who is almost a stranger to him. He threatens Tom with razor blades and forces him to back off. Tom tells Richard that he will end up on the gallows, but Richard tells Tom that he will never lead a life as degrading as Tom's.
Note how this chapter shows Richard oppressed by both the black and white worlds around him. Both have an image of how he should behave, and Wright seems to imply that the two images are not so different. For example, he says that Tom wants to beat him for not acting like the "backward" black boys on the plantations. Like Richard's white employer, Tom is sure that Richard will never amount to anything.
Some readers think that Wright's portrayal of his fellow blacks is unfair. They also question whether he was in the right as often as he portrays himself. Where, where, they as, could he have learned such integrity if the world around him was so devoid of it? Others think his criticism perceptive and courageous. They feel that he gives sufficient indication of the sources of his rebellious attitudes. For example, though he disagrees with his grandmother, he resembles her in stubbornly choosing a path that is not that of the majority. Which viewpoint do you think is more valid? Why?
NOTE: THOMAS WILSON
Richard Wright's uncle, Thomas Wilson, was an unemployed teacher, who earned a living repairing furniture. Some readers feel that Wright was not sympathetic enough to a man who was doing his best under difficult circumstances. Wilson was already suffering the beginnings of Parkinson's disease, a chronic and progressive nervous disease that weakens muscles and causes tremors. And, though Wright doesn't mention it in Black Boy, his uncle's occupational situation was soon to improve. Uncle Thomas became a real estate broker and later wrote a book on the word "Negro." He made a substantial amount of money and became a community leader. Moreover, he and Wright became friendly in later years.