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Free Study Guide-Black Boy by Richard Wright-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 2

Summary

This chapter deals with the later part of Richard Wrightís childhood. Richard is delighted to hear that they would be moving out of their present dwelling and go to Jackson and then to Arkansas. Grannyís two-story house fascinates him and he enjoys playing both inside and outside the house. He meets Ella, the black boarder whom granny had kept in the house to supplement her income. He asks Ella to tell her stories from the books that she is reading. However, his story session comes to an end when Granny intervenes and stops Ella from relating, what she calls devilish stories. Richard feels disappointed but forgets about it as he gets involved with other activities. Once when his mother falls ill, granny supervises over Richard and his brother, while they have their bath. After Richard has finished his bath, Granny wipes him dry. As she touches his private parts, Richard unconsciously utters the indecent words "When you get through, kiss back there." Granny is shocked to hear such words from a child. She strikes him with the wet towel before reporting the matter to his mother. His mother gives him a beating and asks him the source of such lewd language. Richard is unable to give a reply because he cannot remember how he has picked up the words. Thus one more casual act of Richard causes him harm.

The incident is forgotten and Richard starts inhaling the essence of life once again. Soon it is time to leave for Arkansas. At the railway station, Richard observes that the White and the black people are segregated both at the ticket counter and the compartments. His curiosity is aroused and he questions his mother about the discrimination. His mother however does not give straightforward answers to his questions. At Elaine, he settles down happily in the comfortable surroundings of his auntís house. Aunt Maggie is a loving woman and Uncle Hoskins a generous man. After a long time, he gets to see so much food on the table and he is unable to believe it. It takes Richard some time to get used to the ides that there will be enough food for the next meal.


One day, Uncle takes him out for a ride in his horse buggy. On the way, they pass a river. To make fun, Uncle takes the horse towards the river to make it drink water. As the buggy gets into the water, Richard gets frightened. Uncle Hoskins finally moves the buggy and the horse out of the water. Once out of the water, Richard is no longer frightened. This incident however completely destroys Richardís trust in his uncle.

The peaceful life at Elaine is suddenly disturbed. One evening, uncle fails to return back from the saloon and everybody is very worried. Aunt Maggie checks in the bedroom and discovers that Uncle Hoskins hasnít taken his pistol with him. In the night, they are learn that a White man, who had wanted to establish his authority in the saloon, has killed him. Out of fear, they leave the place and later, shift to Jackson. Here too, Richard observes White men treating black laborers slavishly.

They move back to West Helena where Richardís mother and aunt take up jobs as cooks. While they are out working, Richard explores the ill-reputed house in the neighborhood and earns the wrath of the landlady. Thus they have to again shift residence. Here, Aunt Maggie befriends a black professor and meets him on the sly. Shortly afterwards, she runs away with the man who is pursued by the police. With his Auntís exit, insecurity haunts Richard and his family. However, Richardís mother finally gets a decent job in a doctor's office and she enrolls her children in school. Richard is a very nervous on the first day of school. And to add to this, he becomes the laughingstock of the class. This is because when the teacher asks him to write his name on the blackboard, he gets very nervous and is unable to write. Suddenly there is a sound of whistles blowing and bells ringing and this causes the children to run to the windows. The teacher leaves the class and returns to declare that the war is over. There is rejoicing everywhere. Christmas arrives but does not bring any joy to Richard. The only thing that he gets to eat that day, is an orange.

Notes

Richardís childhood is disturbed. After every happy experience, he tastes the bitter fruits of misery. As his mother announces their departure to Jackson and Arkansas, Richard feels elated. In Memphis, he had experienced fear, hunger and insecurity. The place had resounded with the voice of his cruel father, the drunken people at the saloon, the indecent remarks of the school children and the rumblings of an empty stomach. He looks forward to his visit to Jackson and Arkansas. Jackson and Grannyís house turn out to be better than he had expected. The house is big and the surroundings are congenial to freedom and enjoyment. Richard also gets a peep into the world of fantasy when he hears the story from Ella. He is happy to escape into an unreal world where there is no hunger or misery. However, Granny restricts his entry into this ethereal world by warning Ella not to tell any more such stories.

Richard is punished again but he is at a loss to understand his mistake. In the previous chapter, Richard had tried to show off the little knowledge that he had gained from the boys at school by writing the forbidden four letter words on window-panes and got punished for it. Now, unknowingly he speaks out lewd language and evokes the wrath of his grandmother. In all his innocence, he utters the shocking words he might have picked up in the saloon at Memphis. Both the times, he commits mistakes unconsciously and eventually realizes that he should mouth words only after understanding their meaning. Richard and his mother soon begin to find the atmosphere in his grannyís house very suffocating. This is because of grannyís strict norms about what is considered right and what is seen as wrong. Anyone, who dares to diverge from these norms, has to face severe punishment. This sense of guilt that granny tries to impose on everybody is what Richard finds oppressive and claustrophobic. Even though he is a young boy he can understand the injustice in these punishments, which are always accompanied by some reference to Christian beliefs. Living under such circumstances, it is not difficult for the readers to gauge why Richard developed revulsion for Christianity.

Happiness is as temporary to Richard as security. Just when he feels secure in his grannyís home at Jackson, his mother decides to move on to Arkansas. Richard looks forward to the visit and is happy with the situation in Elaine. In fact, the place provides him comforts beyond his expectations. The house is spacious, the food is surplus and his guardians are kind. Accustomed to hunger and deprivation, Richard is unable to believe that he can have as much as he wants. However, such days of sunshine come to an end with the death of Uncle Hoskins. Once again they are tested by the vagaries of fortune. His mother and aunt have to work to for their living. They are troubled by pangs of hunger. At one point of time, Richard contemplates selling his puppy to earn money to buy food. However, his ego overpowers his hunger and he refuses to sell his dog to a White girl.

Richard becomes aware of racial prejudice in this chapter. While leaving Jackson for Arkansas, he observes Whites and Blacks standing in different lines at the counter. He also notes that the Whites are sitting in separate compartments. He has an urge to peep into their compartment but is restrained from doing so by his mother. He satisfies his curiosity by asking numerous questions about the color of his parents and grandparents. Finally, when he becomes aware that he is colored, he feels sad. Later, he observes chained black men being dragged by the Whites. When probed, his mother exposes the discrimination against the blacks. Richard declares that he would not let the Whites beat him up. Realization about the injustice done to the blacks by the Whites slowly dawns on him. After he hears about black men being killed by the White men and when a White rival kills his uncle, he starts understanding the discrimination against the races. He realizes that he has to be cautious in his approach to towards the Whites. However, he was at liberty to tease the Jews. Such are the rules of life that Richard learns in childhood.

Richard rejoins school amidst the cries of war and insecurity at home. Christmas brings him no joy. He gets no gifts and has very little food to eat. That festive day, he has only an orange to fill his stomach.

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