The Influences On Richard Wright In Black

Boy Essay, Research Paper

In the book Black Boy, Richard s family and the white people surrounding him as a child in the South significantly influence the person that he grows up to be. Family members or co-workers in some way influence almost every important decision that Richard makes as a young adult. Although many people influence Richard, the three people that most affect his decisions, opinions, and beliefs, and have the overall greatest impact on him are his mother, grandmother, and his co-workers at the optical company. His mother influences him in many ways, the most important being that she teaches him to stand up for himself and for what he believes. She teaches him this at a very young age. As a child, she sends him to get something from the grocery store. On the way to the store neighborhood children beat him and take his money. When he comes home his mother merely gives him more money and sends him back out into the street. The children beat him twice. He comes home after the second beating thinking that he will be safe inside the house with his mother. However, his mother sends him right back out with a stick, and tells him to defend himself with it. His mother does not take any time to comfort him before sending him back out. She only tells him I m going to teach you this night to stand up and fight for yourself. (19) This confuses Richard because before this she never tells him to fight. He goes out, fights back against the children, and gets to the store with his money. His mother also tells him that there is a difference between being beaten and being whipped. This comes up after an incident with a white man beating a black boy. Richard naively assumes that the man is the boy s father, which would justify the abuse. She tells him that white men do not beat black boys; they whip them, and that the man was not the boy s father. Being beaten, he associates with punishment for doing something wrong. While being whipped, is when someone hits another person for amusement. She does not go into detail on how it is different, only saying that he is too young to understand. These teachings influence him later in life because he does not let anyone hit him, unless his mother is punishing him for something. He almost never lets anyone besides his mother hit him. This is both bad and good for Richard. It is bad in that it sometimes gets him in trouble with white people while he is in the South. He does not show them the level of respect that white people ordinarily expect. Nevertheless, it is also good for him because he has a lot more respect for himself than many of the other black people that he meets, for instance Shorty. Granny is the other adult that plays a large role in Richard s development and throughout his early life. She and Richard rarely see eye to eye on things. He never thinks of her as a parent, although with his mother constantly sick she plays a large role in raising him and has very much control over his life. He does not do what she says just because she says it and often asks for a reason. Granny sees this as questioning her authority, which is disrespectful. He also never lets her beat him. This is very different from his relationship with his mother. He rarely questions his mother, and accepts it when she beats him. Both of these things end up causing a lot of pain and suffering for Richard. Since Granny is very religious and has very strong faith in God, and Richard does not, many fights occur between them. They are both extremely stubborn and set in their beliefs. Although Richard does not really have any religious beliefs, he is just as set in what he thinks as Granny is in her religion. Granny is unable to understand this, and sees Richard as just being stubborn and unfaithful. Granny often does not let Richard do things that his friends are doing because of her beliefs. She also frequently holds things over him in order to get him to convert, and takes things away because she thinks that they interfere with his faithfulness. At one point in the novel, Richard wants to get a job since they are almost out of money; but Granny does not let him because he will have to work on Saturdays. Granny believes that working on the Sabbath is wrong and immoral. Although Granny is constantly trying to get Richard to believe, all of her efforts have almost an opposite effect. Both Granny and Aunt Addie try everything, without prevail, to convince him to change his beliefs. However, after awhile they get frustrated and give up. Granny and Aunt Addie changed toward me, giving me up for lost; they told me that they were dead to the world, and those of their blood who lived in this world were therefore dead to them. From urgent solicitude they dropped to coldness and hostility. (143) Through both Granny s over-concern, and later numbness towards Richard she permanently sets his atheistic beliefs. Thus, she involuntarily accomplishes the complete opposite of her ultimate goal.

The time that Richard spends in the South most importantly teaches him about racism. Although Richard is never excellent at dealing with this hatred, he knows enough to keep himself alive. While he is working at the optical company, he meets two white employees, Reynolds and Pease. When he first applies for the job, Mr. Crane, his boss, tells him that he will be able to learn part of the trade. However, once he starts working there and asks Reynolds to tell him about the work, both Reynolds and Pease immediately change towards him. Before they were never polite to Richard, but they did not instigate problems with him. Now they are constantly mean and threatening towards him. All of this escalates until one day when they are alone in the building and they confront him saying that Reynolds heard Richard call Pease, Pease, instead of Mr. Pease. This way no matter how Richard responds he will get into trouble. If he admits calling him Pease, he will be admitting to disrespecting Pease, but if he denies it, he will be calling Reynolds a liar, also disrespectful. This is the most severe form of racial hatred that affects Richard directly. The entire incident extremely frightens him. On the way home from the company he feels that the sidewalk was unreal, that I was unreal, that the people were unreal, yet expecting somebody to demand to know what right I had to be on the streets. My wound went deep; I felt that I had been slapped out of the human race. (225) This incident convinces Richard that he must leave the South in order to survive. When Mr. Cane calls Richard into his office to tell him why he is leaving he reveals: I m going away, and, I m going to get out of the South. (228)Even though while Richard is living in the South he is treated badly and inferior, his experiences teach him many values and lessons that make him the person that he becomes. Each person that leaves any impact on Richard, both good and bad, affects the impact that another person will leave. One concept corrupts and confuses others. I am not speaking of the Evil whose limited sphere is ethics; I am speaking of the infinite. (Borges) His mother teaches him to stand up for himself and his beliefs, but standing up for himself causes him problems throughout his life. If Granny had not forced her beliefs upon Richard, he might have become a more religious person. Perhaps if his mother had not taught him to fight for what he believes in, he would have just gone along with Granny s efforts to make him dedicated to her religion. He also might not have crossed the line that segregated whites and blacks unwritten social rights so many times. Therefore, the whole incident with Reynolds and Pease might not have happened, and this might have caused him to not leave the South. All of the influences on him only made him stronger and more unique. Some of the situations hurt him in the short run, but through it all, he managed to survive.

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