HomeLiterature Study GuidesBlack BoyPart 2 Chapter 18 Summary

Black Boy | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Black Boy | Part 2, Chapter 18 : The Horror and the Glory | Summary

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Summary

A group of white post office employees invite Wright to a Communist-sponsored literary organization called the John Reed Club. Wright arrives at the meeting feeling doubtful, but the white man at the door, Grimm, welcomes him warmly. Everyone at the meeting is white, but they treat him with "no condescension." They give Wright some of their magazines, and when he reads them, he is "amazed to find that there did exist in this world an organized search for the truth of the lives of the oppressed and the isolated." In fact, many countries around the world are already uniting "outcasts" and placing them in power.

Wright does not care about economics or trade unions. Communism appeals to him because he sees "the similarity of the experiences of workers" around the world. He considers "human unity ... more important than bread." Wright reads all night and then writes a clumsy poem. In the morning his mother sees the magazines, and he attempts to explain them but soon grows frustrated. He realizes the Communists are not speaking their message in a way his family understands.

At the next meeting of the John Reed Club, Wright shows his poem to the club, and the members offer to publish it. They seem grateful he is willing to write about black experience. Soon Wright is writing regularly for Communist magazines.

Two months later internal politics cause a feud within the John Reed Club, and when it is over, Wright is elected president of the group. He is not prepared for the job, but he takes it on. He even becomes a Communist Party member to make his work go more smoothly. But to his dismay petty squabbling becomes the norm in the club. A man named Comrade Young joins the group and sows doubts about the loyalty of another member, Swann. Young's accusations cause chaos and bickering. When Wright learns Young is an escaped psychiatric patient, he is shaken. He decides to hide the truth to keep the group together, and he makes sure all suspicions against Swann are dropped.

Analysis

After years of searching for human connection, Wright finds a home among Communist writers. Communist street activists annoy him with their aggressive rhetoric, but the people at the John Reed Club speak and write in a language he understands. Through the club Wright learns the African American experience is not unique: Poor people all over the world share similar struggles. He respects the Communists for trying to give power and a voice to the poor.

Although the members of the John Reed Club are almost all white, they treat him as an equal. Wright is wary, but he is interested enough to find out if their apparent lack of bias is real. For the first time in his life he has a chance to truly belong.

Wright sees a way to make a vital contribution to the work of the John Reed Club. Their message makes sense to him, but their writers explain it in a way most poor black people, like Wright's mother, cannot understand. Wright resolves to find a way to bring the message to his own community.

In the past Wright had been an outcast everywhere, even in his own family. At the John Reed Club he is thrust into the center of the group. He is soon elected president, but the group does not thrive under his leadership. One man who becomes a respected member, Comrade Young, turns out to be an escaped psychiatric patient. Wright wonders how an insane person's ideas sound so sensible in the context of his meetings. From this experience he learns to be skeptical when he hears other Communists raise suspicions about each other's loyalty. Notably, his behavior with Young parallels that of his behavior with the cook earlier. Rather than choose a path of direct confrontation, he tries to minimize the damage being done. In so doing, he shows how much respect he has for the dignity of all human beings, even those who are wrong and inflicting pain on others.

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