In the beginning of Black Boy, Richard is four-years-old. He and his family live in Mississippi with his grandmother. While playing he accidentally sets the curtins on fire. He tries to put the fire out, but a large portion of the house burns and Richard becomes very frightened. He hides under the house where his father finds him. His father beats him so badly that he becomes sick and runs a very high fever. He has hallucinations and sees a cow standing over him with her udders over his face. He fears he may drown.