The Oppression In The 1900
′S (Black Boy) Essay, Research Paper
The Oppression In The 1900’s
Everybody, once or more times in his or her life has been oppressed by others or themselves. Such is the case of Richard Wright in Black Boy, his autobiography. He was born in 1918 at the time of segregation and discrimination. The setting of this novel is in the deep south of Jackson, Mississippi where blacks are abused by whites. The time is 1912, two years before World War I. The mood of the novel is dramatic. Richard Wright is the protagonist. The antagonists are the people who oppress him. Some of them are his own family members. The minor characters are the people he meets when he moves to Memphis. Through other people he realizes the injustice of Jim Crow laws. The conflict happens Richard fight against oppressions from others. The climax of the novel takes place when he wants to learn and gains more knowledge by reading more books, but he is afraid that the white people will find out about it. As a result, he hides the books under the newspapers when he goes to work so people will not see it. The resolution occurs when he decides to tell his boss that he will move to Chicago. Richard Wright’s character is affected in early childhood by the effects of societal oppression as well as internalized oppression, but he became a great American author despite these negative factors in his life.
The first time that Richard faces societal oppression is when he and his mother visit Granny in Arkansas. This is how he describes it. ” for the first time I noticed that there were two lines of people at the ticket window, a ‘white’ line and a ‘black’ line. During my visit at Granny’s a sense of the two races had been born in me with a sharp concreteness that would never die until I died I was aware that we Negroes were in one part of the train and that the whites were in another” (55). This passage shows how he feels about the segregation for the first time he sees it. Even though his mother has never told him about the hostility between blacks and whites, he finds out through the older boys in the gang. During a conversation with them, he heard one of the boys says,
” ‘ they send you to war, make you lick them Germans, teach you how to fight and when you come back they scared of you, want to kill you’ ” (90). This is exactly how blacks feel toward the whites. Black people are sent to Europe to die for their country. When they come back, the whites do not even change their attitude toward blacks. Instead they set up an organization called the Ku Klux Klan. In the school year of sixth grade, Richard takes a job that sells newspapers, but a man in his neighborhood points out to him that the newspaper’s publishers are the Ku Kluxers. Because in the newspaper, there are pictures shows that blacks are the people who will try to destroy their society. So they say all whites should organize and destroy blacks. They think the white race is the superior race. They treat blacks like animals. For example, when a dog of a boss at the brickyard bites Richard. That boss does not even care about the wound. He says that a dog cannot really hurt a “nigger”. These examples above illustrate how blacks have to deal with societal oppression in the south of the country.
Ever since Richard is little, people around him and especially his own family has beaten him for things he did not do. He is internally oppressed by them. They make him think that it is right to beat him. One time, when Richard is going to be beaten for throwing walnuts on the floor in the classroom even though he did not, he thinks to himself, “I had often been painfully beaten, but almost always I had felt that the beatings were somehow right and sensible, that I was in the wrong” (118). At that moment, Richard thinks that he deserves to be beaten. Another time when Richard’s Grandpa passed away, his Granny tells him to give the news to Uncle Tom who lives two miles away from their house. Uncle Tom immediately yells at Richard for intentionally shocking Uncle Tom with the bad news. “I walked home slowly, asking myself what on earth was the matter with me, why it was I never seemed to do things as people expected them to be done. Every word and gesture I made seemed to provoked hostility” (158). In this passage Richard blames himself for not doing what other people wanted even though it is not his fault. ” no matter what [he] did [he] would be wrong ” (158). Richard begins to think like what other people think. His self-esteem starts to wane down. He is thinking that no matter what he does, people will say that it is wrong. Then why should he worry about it? He is affected by other people’s acceptance of their oppression. An example of this is when Richard offers to help Bess in school, but she replies, ” ‘You think you can?’ she asked, doubting” (234). Right away, Bess thinks that a black person cannot do well in school, but she does not know that Richard is far more intelligent than she thinks he is.
Through societal and internalized oppression, Richard’s personalities allow him to overcome them. His characteristics are unique and different, and in a way, he is rebellious. At one time, Richard fights back at Uncle Tom who is going to beat him for the way he says the time. ” ‘I’ve got a razor in each hand If you touch me, I’ll cut you!’ ” (175). This passage shows that Richard is rebellious and he is able to stand up for himself. He knows that he did nothing wrong, so he should not be beaten for it. Besides being rebellious, Richard Wright has always wanted to read and write since he was a kid. He has a sense of wanting to know and gaining knowledge. For example, when Ella, a colored teacher, was reading books Richard asks her to tell him the story even though his grandmother does not let him read it. ” ‘I don’t care I want to know’ ” (46). In this passage, it shows that he stands up for himself and for his own intellectual curiosity. Not only that, he is willing to study. “I studied night and day and within two weeks I was promoted to the sixth grade” (138). It foreshadows that he is a hard worker and is self-reliance. He does not let anybody to tell him to do it, but he does it all by himself. Before he moves to Chicago with his Aunt Maggie, he thinks about life in the south, the past, and the future. In one of those thoughts, he thinks about Shorty, an elevator operator who sells himself daily for a few coins. He knows that he will never do that. “Neither could I ever willingly present myself to be kicked as Shorty had done. I would rather have died than do that” (276). He has a lot of pride in himself. He will not lower himself before anybody. Through these character traits, they enable Richard to overcome his oppression and become what he wants to be.
In spite of all the oppressions that Richard Wright received over the years, he still can be a successful writer. One of the themes in this novel Richard Wright tries to prove is the cycle of oppression. People oppress others because they have been internalized oppressed by another person. Because they have been oppressed, they want to do the same thing to others. In the same way, whites deliver the same hate to blacks that they themselves receive from society. To Richard, this is a result of naturalism, which means that everybody’s behavior is shaped by the society around him or her. It is not their fault, but the environment they grow up in.