Which title is better and why--American Hunger, or Black Boy?  In what sense does the publication of Black Boy reflect a fear of books present in our society?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Richard Wright's autobiographical novel, Black Boy, chronicles his life, his hunger for knowledge and acknowledgement both in his own family and in society.  But, it is also the story of anyone who is socially and economically deprived who wants to be able to have the opportunities to which he/she is entitled as a human being. Wright's search for self is universal and, withing the context of America, it is, indeed, a search for the "American Dream."

The posthumously published American Hunger takes off from where the earlier biography ends, chronicaling not only his disillusionment with the Communist party with which Black Boy deals, but also the difficulties that Wright experienced as a poor black in the urban North.  At the end of this book Wright asks a question reflective of many that he has asked in Black Boy:

What had I got out of living in America?....I paced the floor knowing that all I possessed were words and a dim knowledge that my country had shown me no examples of how to live a human life.

Because American Hunger, a more thorough autobiography, poses harsh criticisms of Communism, Wright's publishers urged him to only release the "Southern" version and not include his life in the North because the Book-of-the-Month Club objected to his criticisms of the Communist party and threatened to withdraw its support.  Black Boy was published in 1945.

A look back in history somewhat explains the urgings of the publishers in the wake of the second world war and the stirring of the "Communist Scare" of the 1950s with McCarthyism.  However, it is only right that Wright's autobiography include all the significant events and influences of his life.  Thus, American Hunger is a better title, for it is more comprehensive and more fitting.  Wright's autobiography is a book that all Americans can read and relate to in their own desires for improvement and advancement of themselves.


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