Literature Study GuidesBlack BoyPart 2 Chapter 20 Summary

Black Boy | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Black Boy | Part 2, Chapter 20 : The Horror and the Glory | Summary

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Summary

Wright gets a job with the Federal Writer's Project, and he is assigned to write guidebooks. Once again the Communist Party tries to drive him out of a job. On his way to and from work people shout at him and call him "traitor." Furious and determined to set things right, Wright attempts to meet with the head of the local Communist Party and explain he still believes in the party's goals—but he only gets to meet with the man's secretary, Alma Zetkin. She mocks Wright and refuses to help him. Wright cannot understand this. As far as he knows, he never did anything to harm the party. He is "officially accused of nothing," but he is treated like "an open enemy."

On May Day 1936 Wright plans to march in a May Day parade. When he arrives, he finds his group already gone. An old party friend invites him to join their group. Wright steps into the crowd, but a white Communist named Cy Perry spots him and orders him to leave. Perry and another white Communist attack Wright and throw him on the ground. Stunned, Wright wanders to a park bench and sits down to think. He writes that the Communists have lost their way: "Their enemies have blinded them with too much oppression."

Wright returns home and resolves to pursue his goals alone. He will write and try to examine what it means to be human, but he will not do it for anyone. He decides to "hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo" and to "create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human."

Analysis

Dropping out of the Communist Party is not as simple as Wright assumed. He still believes in communism and tries to maintain his friendship with Communists, but they treat him like a traitor.

Wright has grown personally since he first moved to Chicago. He used to simply turn his back on damaged relationships; this time he tries to fix them, but he is rebuffed, ignored, shouted at, teased, and finally beaten. Eventually he decides his relationship with the party can never be repaired, but he reconciles himself with that fact by understanding it is not for lack of trying on his part.

Looking back on these experiences, Wright draws a comparison between the Chicago Communist Party and the southern black communities he knew growing up. Both groups were oppressed, one by white people and the other by mainstream American politics. Southern black communities turned violence on themselves—on their children and on each other—because they did not have the power to hurt the white people who oppressed them. The Communists did something similar, "blinded ... with too much oppression." Ultimately, Wright refuses any closed system that has no room for new ideas or tolerance.

As Black Boy ends, Wright embraces his isolation. He has tried and failed to form deeper relationships, and the aloneness is more painful than it used to be. However, he can still write, and in the future writing alone will provide his connection to others. He will use the written word to explore what it means to be human.
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