How is the frequent mention of hunger significant in Black Boy? Why is Richard always hungry in Black Boy by Richard Wright?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The posthumously published "American Hunger" has now been added to Black Boy which ended in 1925.  This motif of hunger is what ties the two parts of Wright's novel together; hunger is both literal and figurative.

In the opening chapter, Richard displays a curiosity for the consequences of things.  He "pushes the envelope" by lighting the curtains in his home, he challenges his father's words by taking them to their most literal meaning.  In short, Richard is hungry for the unattainable.

After Richard's father abandons the family, the mother and the boys literally starve.  Richard is thin, and always hungry as there is never enough for him to eat. and there is little love for him.  For, Richard comes into conflict with his aunt, grandmother and grandfather, and even his brother.  Only his mother encourages and loves Richard for what he truly is.

As a young man, Richard Wright hungers for opportunities to reach his intellectual and social potential.  He does not understand the hatred shown him by Jim Crow, nor does he understand why some blacks accept their menial roles without wishing to better themselves.  After he moves from the South and arrives in Chicago, Richard hopes that the Communist Party will satiate his hunger; however, he encounters negativity towards himself even in the Communists.  They do no want him to be an individual any more than Jim Crow did.  Richard Wright is still left with hunger as he wonders,

What quality of will must a Negro possess to live and die with dignity in a country that denied his humanity?....All my life I had been full of a hunger for a new way to live...I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, not mater how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.

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