After reading Richard Wright's autobiographical work titled Black Boy, describe some developments in Richard's character over the course of the book.
Discuss three changes in Richard. Please be specific.
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During the course of Richard Wright’s autobiographical work titled Black Boy, the character of the protagonist can be seen from a numbering of distinct, and often significantly different, perspectives.
At the beginning of the book, Richard, as a young boy, is defiant. He literally plays with fire and thus accidentally ignites a blaze that damages much of the family home. Individualism and a refusal to conform will be major traits of Richard’s character throughout the book, and this theme is established very early in the work.
In dealing with other members of his family, for instance (including his “Granny” and his aunt Addie) young Richard is often very defiant and independent. Later, though, as he becomes older and has to deal with some racist white co-workers, he suffers real fear. Thus,the older Richard becomes, the more he learns from personal experience the dangers and disadvantages of being an African American in the America of the early twentieth century.
Another change in Richard’s character involves the development, as the book proceeds, of his ability to feel at least some affection toward others. Early in the book, his attitude toward others often seems a bit cold and callous. Later, however, especially in an episode involving a generous widow and her daughter whom he meets in Memphis, Richard seems more appreciative and more capable of warmth.
Finally, a major change in Richard’s character is a growing sense of maturity and resourcefulness as he ages and as he begins to contemplate a move from the racist South, where he often feels terrified, to what he hopes will be a better life in the North. His clever attempts to use a local library, for instance, is a good example of his growing ability to cope with the challenges he faces as a black person in a racist society.
As I say in my discussion of this book in the Student’s Encyclopedia of Great American Writers,
The pattern established by the opening description of the fire is repeated consistently throughout the book: Young Richard challenges or defies authority and is swiftly punished, and often the punishment is at the hands of his own family.
By the end of the book, however, Richard is increasingly free from the influences of his family and also of others who might try to restrict his growing independence.
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