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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
One day, as Richard reads the Commercial Appeal, he comes across an article on H. L. Mencken. He likes the article so much that he makes up his mind to read other works of the author. With this intention, he approaches one of the Catholic English officers for whom, has earlier got books from the library. Mr. Falk lends him his library card. Armed with the card and a forged note by Falk, Richard enters the library. The librarian looks at him suspiciously, but gives him two books by Mencken. Richard is delighted. He goes through Menckenís Prejudices and finds it very absorbing. He is inspired to write like the author, but realizes his inability to do so. However, the book induces him to read other authors, who are mentioned in.
As he borrows more books, his thirst for knowledge and his desire to write increases. He starts identifying himself and the others around him with the characters in the books. Unconsciously, through these books, he creates a barrier between himself and the others. He also starts contemplating on his mission in life but is apprehensive about fulfilling it.
The writer in Richard gets awakened. He desires to read books written by different authors. He starts with Menckenís Prejudices. As he goes through the book, the authorís use of words to convey his thoughts, fascinate him. Mencken uses words as weapons to hit at his adversaries. Richard feels inspired to write like him to convey his views to the people. Thus, he makes an attempt to write. However, when he sits down to pen his thoughts, he realizes that mere ideas are not enough. Feelings are required to convey them.
Disappointed but not disheartened, he reads fiction by modern authors and starts identifying himself with the characters in the novels. The fictional world makes him reflect on the real world and he starts understanding himself and the others better. He is able to differentiate between his attitude and others. The mission of his life now becomes clear to him. He wishes to be a writer in order to convey the imbalance of the society to the world. He is aware that his mission is difficult to achieve, but his spirit urges him to move towards his goal.
Richardís aunt, Maggie arrives in Memphis after her husband deserts her. Richard decides to go North with her and leave his mother with his brother, till he is able to save enough money to have them with him. However, he is afraid to inform his boss about his plans. He wishes to resign from his job without any bitterness. So, a few days before his departure to the North, he meets his boss and hands over his resignation. He gives the excuse, that he has to accompany his sick mother to Chicago. His boss tries to persuade him to stay back, but when he becomes aware of Richardís determination, he gives in. Richard leaves the firm relieved and happy. Then, after collecting money from the Post office and fulfilling other formalities, he turns away from the city that has given him both pain and pleasure.
The second phase of Richardís life gets over. As Richard emerges out of his teens, he has the satisfaction of enjoying his freedom, fulfilling his responsibilities and realizing his dream. Memphis gives him the freedom to lead his life on his own terms. Thus, he takes up the job of his choice, reads books, that interest him and saves money according to his plans. Though he faces hurdles on the way, he is able to adjust to his surroundings and establish his identity. He starts understanding himself better and realizes the need to play a more important role in society. And when he gets the opportunity to attain his goal, he grabs the chance. As soon as Aunt Maggie arrives in Memphis, he plans to leave for Chicago with her, before taking his mother and brother to live with him. He decides to find his moorings in the city before settling down with his family. Thus, he bids goodbye to the city with mixed feelings. Richard Wright ends the first part of the book with his startling reaction to fear. "This was the culture from which I sprang. This was the terror from which I fled."
In the first few editions of the autobiography, these were the concluding words of the book. However, when the later editions published the second part, these lines were the conclusion of the first part of the novel. Richard wishes to make a new beginning with hope rather than fear.