Literature Study GuidesBlack BoyPart 1 Chapter 6 Summary

Black Boy | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Black Boy | Part 1, Chapter 6 : Southern Night | Summary

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Summary

Wright finds a job serving a white family before and after school and on Saturdays. His new employer offers him food unfit even for animals and dismisses as impossible the idea he could ever be a writer. Hearing this, he decides to quit. He reflects, "The woman had ... assumed that she knew my place in life, what I felt, what I ought to be, and I resented it with all my heart." He gets a new job with another family. His new employers stereotype him too, but he keeps the job. The work makes him drowsy at school, but he is able to buy himself clothes and food.

During this period Wright's mother's health improves. A devout Methodist, she pressures Wright to attend a revival. Under intense public pressure Wright submits and agrees to be baptized, but he admits to his mother privately that he does not believe in her religion.

At Mrs. Wright's house money is especially tight, and Uncle Tom moves in with his wife and children. One morning shortly after his arrival, Uncle Tom asks Wright a question and finds the tone of his answer disrespectful. He announces he is going to whip Wright, who palms two razor blades and threatens to retaliate if Uncle Tom touches him. Uncle Tom backs down, but he is furious. He says Wright will end up hanged someday. Wright shrugs this off and walks out of the house to go to work, where he will "face the whims of the white folks."

Analysis

As Wright grows older, he makes choices that seem to contradict one another. He quits one job because the white boss assumes a black boy cannot be a writer, but he keeps another job where he is also stereotyped‚ÄĒalbeit in a way he finds less personally offensive. He is a strong-willed, proud young man, but his culture forces him to compromise his pride in order to survive. Instead, he finds ways to compromise with himself about what he will and will not accept.

Wright's struggles with religion continue. He still refuses to join his grandmother's strict Seventh-day Adventist church, but he caves to pressure from his mother, with whom he has a closer relationship. He is baptized as a Methodist. (The Methodist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination.) This public change does not alter Wright's heart, and he remains honest with his mother, telling her he does not share her beliefs. Looking back on this period, Wright says organized religion exists purely to control people.

When Uncle Tom moves into Granny's house, Wright's relations with his extended family grow sourer than ever. Uncle Tom, like virtually every adult in Wright's unstable family life, assumes he has the right to whip Wright for misbehavior. Wright, now 14 and nearing adulthood, fights back. He sees Uncle Tom as a stranger who has no right to assume power over him.

In response to this rebellion Uncle Tom predicts Wright will end up hanged. This statement suggests he is scared by Wright's unwillingness to bow down to authority. When Wright grows up, he will live at the mercy of white-dominated society, which is even more capricious with punishments than Uncle Tom. Among whites, if Wright rebels, he could easily be killed. The young Wright does not understand the connection between his behavior toward his uncle and the white world, but the author hints at it at the end of the chapter when Wright goes out to "face the whims of the white folks."

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