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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 16

Summary

Life looks up for Richard that spring, when he clears the Postal examination and is reinstated as a clerk in the Post office. He also gains weight and satisfies the rules of the department. Thus, secure in his job, he gives vent to his power of expression. He writes about the attitude of a Negro but finds the pulse of life missing from it. At work, he gets acquainted with a young Irish man who shows interest in discussing fiction and racism and therefore Richard enjoys talking to him. At this time, he meets a Negro Literary group belonging to the South Side of Chicago. The young boys and girls in the group are more obsessed with sex than they are interested in literature. Richard finds them a confused lot. Next, he gets to know the Garveyites who are racists with a difference. They weave dreams about going to Africa and leading a life of freedom. Their ignorance of the situation in that part of the world puts off Richard.

Days of security end for Richard, when America faces the Great Depression. The stocks crash and hundreds of people are thrown out of their jobs. Richard is also eased out of his work at the Post office. Finally, he finds himself at a loose end. He is forced to shift to a dingy apartment. To make matters worse, all his family members fall sick. Desperate to keep the home fires burning, Richard looks around for a job. His cousin helps him to get a job as an agent in a Negro burial society. As an insurance agent, he meets a variety of people from the lower strata of society. Since they are illiterate, the fraudulent insurance policy lures them. Richard feels guilty to sell the policies to the poor, but decides to do so to earn a few dollars. During the course of his work, he gets close to a young unwed mother, though her ignorance of the affairs of the world repulse him. All around him, he feels the revolutionary spirit and the voices of communism. Often, he listens to the Communist speakers at Washington Park echoing Leninís philosophy. Richard finds their speeches devoid of practical sense, as they speak loudly and bombastically, more to impress than convey their ideas.


As the election approaches, Richard earns money by helping a Negro Republican precinct round up votes. He feels disturbed when he sees that people are being bribed to vote for the candidates. As a mark of rebellion, he signs his protest on the ballot paper before dropping it into the box. Depression deepens and Richard loses his Insurance job. In order to survive, he sells his watch and moves into cheaper rooms. Hunger drives him towards the Cook Country Bureau of Public Welfare.

Notes

Richard experiences the ups and downs of life. He passes the Postal examination and also qualifies in their medical test. He is happy with the job, his salary and the time available for reading. He gives expression to his thoughts by writing an article on the Negro behavior. Writing gives him pleasure, though he realizes that he is unable to put life into paper. He makes new acquaintances and expands his horizon of knowledge by talking to them. However, he is disillusioned by the Negro Literary Society run by sex-starved youths and the Garveyites who display a hollow idealism.

Richardís security and freedom are snatched away from him, after the Great Depression. Along with thousands of men and women, Richard finds himself jobless. He is desperate to earn to make both ends meet. Luckily, he gets a job as an agent in an Insurance company. He is made to sell insurance to poor and illiterate peasants who are unaware of the tricky clauses of the policy. Richardís conscience revolts against fooling the innocent people of their money but necessity make him do so. He is only happy that he is able to meet the lower strata of the black Chicago community and understand their attitude to life. To fight boredom, loneliness and insecurity, Richard turns to women. The black women customers are willing to satisfy the physical longings of the agents in return for money. Thus, a young unwed mother becomes the mistress of Richard. The simplicity of the girl amuses him but her ignorance baffles him. He feels angry with himself for continuing the relationship with her, but feels tempted to do so.

In his fight for survival, Richard is unable to fulfill his creative urge. The insurance job gives him no time to read or write. In the little time he has, he listens to the speeches of Negro communist members and contemplates on their misguided mission. Richard feels sorry for the Negroes who have lost their identity and fail to rise above their limitations. He looks at them as lost people in a hazy civilization. Even those who are fighting for revolution do not understand its real implications. They are merely propagating the philosophy of the stalwarts of Communism.

Richard becomes a pawn in the hands of destiny. Just when he feels that he has established himself in life and is pursuing his interests, he is tested by the vagaries of fortune. The Great Depression and the Wall Street crash shatter his life. He loses his job at the Post office and is driven to starvation. The little money he gets after selling his watch disappears in no time. He remains hungry for days and watches his mother going without food. Thus, helpless, he drags his feet towards the Cook Country Bureau of Public Welfare to beg for food.

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