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Black Boy | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Black Boy | Quotes


Hunger baffled me, scared me, made me angry and insistent.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 1

For Wright hunger is a force. It shapes his personality, drives his motivations, and determines the course of his life.


But if I were beaten in the streets, I had a chance to ... defend myself.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 1

Everywhere Wright turns, he encounters fear and violence. Nevertheless, although violence reigns outside his home too, in that arena he learns to take a stand.


She was not concealing facts, but feelings, attitudes, convictions.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 2

Nobody wants to answer Wright's questions about race and racism, but he has a deeply inquisitive personality and refuses to be satisfied with non-answers.


The meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 3

Wright, who knows nothing but suffering, responds to his mother's long illness by deciding he must figure out what suffering means. As for many intellectuals, the search for meaning becomes the driving force in his life. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances of his race, his search is focused on suffering rather than joy, companionship, travel, or any other of a plethora of possibilities.


Granny intimated boldly ... that one sinful person in a household could bring down the wrath of God.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 4

Granny helps make an outsider of Wright by making him a scapegoat for all his family's problems. She is trying to scare him into accepting her religion. Instead she pushes him toward a lifelong skepticism of religion and a habit of trusting his own perspective over anyone else's.


Wherever I found religion in my life I found strife, the attempt ... to rule.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 5

Wright ultimately rejects religion because he sees it as an empty engine for controlling people.


The North symbolized to me ... a place where everything was possible.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 7

In Wright's mind the North is a magical place where everything he hopes for can come true. Although no place could be so perfect, his dreams of the North give him faith his life can change.


Indeed, the white brutality I had not seen was a more effective control of my behavior.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 8

Hearing about Bob Greenley's murder scares Wright more than the instances of white racial terrorism he has experienced personally. White Southerners keep black Southerners under control by taking charge of their imaginations, the essence of terrorism.


The southern whites would rather have had Negroes who stole ... than Negroes who knew ... their own humanity.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 10

In the Jim Crow South white people tacitly encourage black people to engage in immoral behaviors like stealing. These actions, and this system, help support the lie that black people are inferior because everyone can see them doing wrong. According to Wright, it infuriates whites when they sense black people are too proud to steal because then the blacks are showing their true value as human beings.


When a man's consciousness has been riveted upon obtaining a loaf of bread, that loaf of bread is as important as the stars.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 12

Wright acknowledges the difficulty of discussing big ideas when a man is starving and observes how poverty changes what is important. To a man as hungry as he has been, the concept of food may have connotations it is difficult to express. And to lower a human being to the search for bread is itself a form of torture.


The hate we felt for the men ... went into the blows we threw at each other.

Richard Wright, Part 1, Chapter 12

Wright and Harrison cannot attack the white men who have tricked them into fighting each other, but they need to express their hate and shame somehow. They turn their feelings on each other and beat each other badly.


As soon as I [was] old enough to think I had learned that ... my aspirations had ... been discounted.

Richard Wright, Part 2, Chapter 15

Wright says racism shapes people's destinies before they are able to form goals for themselves. Although he eventually gets out of this trap, most of the other African Americans in the book do not.


For these ... white girls to have understood my life would have meant ... a vast revolution in theirs.

Richard Wright, Part 2, Chapter 15

As Wright gets to know white people in the North, he realizes they, too, live stunted lives because their experience does not include any understand of the racial injustices that permeate the society in which they live. He begins to suspect white Americans would benefit from understanding black suffering.


The problem of human unity was more important than bread.

Richard Wright, Part 2, Chapter 18

For Wright, who has always been hungry, food, as symbolized by bread, holds an almost religious importance. Nevertheless, his experience as a black man in America causes him to believe it is yet more important for people to understand one another in spite of their deep differences. As long as any race or group of people is kept fixated on daily human needs, this goal will never be realized.


I would hurl words into this darkness ... to keep alive ... a sense of the inexpressibly human.

Richard Wright, Part 2, Chapter 20

Wright expresses his goal as a writer. In spite of the suffering society has caused for him, his impulse is to try to make the world a better place by helping others gain a deeper understanding of their own humanity. Even if he can't see the difference he may make, he will continue to write for the sake of his own humanity.

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