Literature Study GuidesBlack BoyPart 1 Chapter 7 Summary

Black Boy | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Black Boy | Part 1, Chapter 7 : Southern Night | Summary

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Summary

In the summer after seventh grade Wright, now 15, gets a job as a water boy at a brickyard. There he is attacked by the white boss's dog. When he complains, the boss says, "A dog bite can't hurt a nigger." Wright, who cannot afford a doctor, can only hope he will be ok. Later the brickyard closes, and he is left unemployed.

Wright enters eighth grade and, bored, writes a story called "The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre." He takes it to the editor of a local "Negro newspaper," who publishes the story but does not pay Wright for it.

At home Mrs. Wright is furious about the story, and Uncle Tom is critical. Even Wright's mother, who usually supports him, says writing stories might make Wright seem "weak-minded" to potential employers. At school Wright's classmates react as though he has done something "vaguely wrong." Wright grows angry and refuses to talk about writing with anyone anymore—but he does not stop dreaming of being a writer.

As the chapter ends, Wright says all his childhood experiences were "rigged to stifle" his high aspirations. Ambition places Wright at a distance from everyone around him.

Analysis

Now that Wright is growing older, his experiences with white racism are changing. When he was younger, racism affected him mostly indirectly, and he rarely witnessed white violence firsthand. Now, however, he is working for white racists whose cruelty affects him personally. For example, his encounter with the dog—and its owner—at the brickyard leaves him physically injured.

When Wright publishes his first story, nobody but a newspaper editor encourages him. Mrs. Wright cannot read, but she condemns the story because, to her, all fiction is a lie. Uncle Tom reads the piece and says it is bad. Most people do not care whether the story is fiction or what it says—they reject the very idea of writing. It is unclear whether they do so because they believe intellectual work is effeminate, or because Wright's intelligence makes them feel inferior, or because they fear for Wright should his intelligence cause him to stand out from others. They simply behave as though Wright has done something strange and untrustworthy. All this makes the young Wright angry but does not stop him from trying to write.

Significantly, all the people who discourage Wright in this chapter are black. Consciously or unconsciously, the people around him are trying to shape him into the kind of black man who can survive in the Jim Crow South. Wright's peers and family members have all, on some level, learned to forego luxuries like thinking deeply, dreaming big dreams, and holding on to self-respect. Wright, partly because he is so isolated, does not yet realize these activities place him in danger. Looking back on this period of his childhood, Wright comments that if he had understood his own culture better, he would probably have quit writing. But he did not understand, and he persisted.

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