Study Guide

Big Boy Leaves Home

by Richard Wright

Big Boy Leaves Home Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is divided into five distinct sections. The first opens on a hot day, as four adolescent African American boys laugh and play in the woods, singing and joking about sexually related matters and tussling and rolling around in the grass like young pups. In the second section, they arrive at a swimming hole, where they are determined to swim despite its no-trespassing sign, which clearly tells them that “Ol man Harvey don erllow no niggers t swim in this hole.” After playfully frolicking in the water, the boys dry themselves in the sun—black and naked. Their innocence is accentuated by the black winged butterfly hovering near the water, the droning of a bee, and the twittering of sparrows. As the sun dries their skins and warms their blood, they laugh nervously about the risk they are taking, when a white woman suddenly appears.

This woman’s sudden intrusion destroys the boys’ innocent frolic, forcing them to scramble about, hiding their nakedness and trying to get at their clothes behind where the woman is standing. The woman screams, calling for her husband. As Big Boy dashes for the clothes, he is as frightened as the woman is and stops three feet from her. Just then, her husband, Jim, arrives; he is wearing an army officer’s uniform and is carrying a rifle. He immediately shoots Lester and Buck; the boys appear to be headed for his wife, but they are actually running toward Bobo, who is holding their clothes. When Jim points his rifle at Bobo, Big Boy lunges and grabs its barrel. As Big Boy fights with Jim, he accidently shoots him. When the man falls, Big Boy and Bobo turn to look at the woman, who screams and falls at the foot of the tree. Big Boy drags the crying Bobo through the woods.

In the third section, the boys head for home, leaving childhood behind them forever. Knowing that they will be lynched, Bobo can think of nothing else. Big Boy clings to the thought that he must get home to his parents. As he stammers out his story, his father, Saul, castigates him for not going to school and makes sure that the boys did not touch the white...

(The entire section is 853 words.)