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Free Barron's Booknotes-Black Boy by Richard Wright-Free Online Notes
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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER VII

Richard publishes his first story. The reaction from his family is overwhelmingly negative.
* * *

Richard gets a job carrying water to thirsty workers at a brick yard. The boss's dog bites him, and the boss laughs, saying that a dog bite can't hurt a black. School is about to begin again, and Richard expects the year to be bleak. He wonders why everyone but himself accepts authority and tradition.

One afternoon, while bored in class, Richard writes a story, which he calls "The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre." He submits it to the local black newspaper, and the editor prints it in three installments. Richard finds that far from admiring him for the story, his classmates are perplexed and suspicious.

At home the reaction is even worse. His grandmother calls the story a lie and the Devil's work. His mother thinks it will hurt his chances of obtaining a teaching job. Uncle Tom finds the story pointless, and Aunt Addie thinks the use of the word "hell" is a sin. Once more, writing seems to be a crime. Looking back, Wright notes that he was harboring ambitions that the entire system of Southern racism was designed to stifle. But note that the people most strongly opposed to him are fellow blacks. Is Wright suggesting that most blacks acquiesced in and even enforced some aspects of Southern racism?


NOTE:

Biographers of Wright have interviewed the typesetter at the paper that published this story. She claims that the story, published in spring of 1924 in the Southern Register, was titled "Hell's Half Acre" and that it was an account of personal experiences rather than the heavily imaginative and atmospheric tale that Wright remembers. She also says that the story's hero was a boy named Bigger Thomas, Wright's childhood friend who became one of the models for the hero of Native Son.

CHAPTER VIII

Richard becomes class valedictorian. But he refuses to give the speech written for him by the principal.
* * *

Richard hears that a classmate's brother has been killed by whites for visiting a white prostitute. Richard realizes how afraid he is of the white terror that could assault him at any time.

The hostility he feels at home seems to be intensifying too. He discovers that Uncle Tom has admonished his children not to associate with Richard. When Richard's brother returns home from Aunt Maggie's, he joins in the criticism of Richard.

At the end of the ninth-grade school term, Richard is chosen valedictorian. The principal hands him a speech to recite, but Richard writes his own speech. He insists on reading it, and neither the principal nor his friends, family, and classmates can dissuade him. Once more his writing has become an offense. And once again the black community is cooperating in keeping him down.

NOTE:

Wright modified this incident slightly when he wrote Black Boy. His speech concerned the way in which the Southern educational system stunted the intellectual development of the black population. While he did insist on reading it against the opposition he describes in the book, he also consented to cut certain passages. In addition, Wright does not mention that the principal had just received permission to start a new school for blacks, a high school that would go beyond the customary ninth grade. Thus, the principal feared any controversy that would jeopardize this project. Of course, keep in mind that this fear does not necessarily justify his act of censorship nor invalidate Wright's criticism of the principal and of the system within which he was working. How severely would you criticize the principal? Would you criticize Wright at all? Why?

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