Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth

by Richard Wright

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In Black Boy, what details does Wright use to make the reader feel the physical and emotional hunger he experiences as a boy?

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In Chapter 1 of Richard Wright's autobiographical novel,  he narrates of his experiences as a boy,

Hunger stole upon me so slowly that at first I was not aware of what hunger really meant....The hunger I had known before...had been no grim, hostile stranger; it had been a normal hunger that had made me beg constantly for bread, and when I ate a crust or two I was satisfied.  But this new hunger baffled me, scared me, made me angry and insistent.

Richard does not realize that his mother has no food because his father is gone, for he is the one who brought home food purchased with the money he earned.  After his mother makes Richard understand that she has no money to buy any food, Richard's image of his father becomes associated with his hunger pangs,

...and whenever I felt hunger I thought of him with a deep biological bitterness.

Later, when his mother can obtain no child support and becomes ill, Richard and his brother must live in an orphanage where they are mistreated and still hungry: 

The most abiding feeling I had each day was hunger and fear.

When Richard is made with the others to pull the grass because there was no one to mow it, he writes that he was "too weak from hunger to pull the grass." He grows dizzy and weak and his mind goes blank from his malnutrition.  It is only in the presence of the cruel director, Miss Simon, that Richard feels his hunger vanish: "The woman killed something in me."

Further, hunger is associated with fear.  As he traverses the streets after running away from the orphanage, Richard is filled with trepidation of the city and "white" policeman, who takes him to the station where he is fed. Then, when he is returned to the orphanage, Richard's hunger is accompanied by a "lashing" from Mrs. Simon.

There is also a shame connected to Richard's hunger. For, when his mother brings him and his brother before her husband, Richard's father merely laughs, declaring that he has nothing for them.  When the mocking father gives him a nickel, Richard associates it with "something unclean."

Truly, hunger prevades his being, and Richard as an adult is driven by this hunger that he associates with his father, Miss Simon, and  so many negative experiences in his life.


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