Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth

by Richard Wright

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An autobiographical novel, Black Boy is Richard Wright's record of how literacy enables him to emerge from his poor background.  With its subtitle of American Hunger, And, in his account of his unfortunate beginnings, Wright describes his hunger for food and for meaning by means of descriptive passages that often contain symbols.

 the scrawny cat -

Much like this kitten from Chapter 1, Richard Wright describes himself as a stranger to his father.  When his angry father yells "Kill that thing" because its noise annoys him, Richard takes him literally out of spite.  This hungry kitten may represent the rejection of Richard by his father as well as his hunger. 

scraps of bread and meat

While Richard's mother works for some white people, he was given only scraps to eat.  These scraps are representative of the racial subjugation that Wright long felt in the South as well as his hunger.

the saloon

Another symbol of Richard's exploitation, Richard is given drinks by the men in the saloon until he becomes a drunkard at age six.

a nickel

When Richard and his brother are taken by their mother to see Mr. Wright, who is with a strange woman, she entreats her husband to provide for his starving boys.  He gives Richard only a nickel, his uncaring token.

Ella's books

 Perceived by his grandmother as a source of evil, Richard's literarcy and his burgeoning skills in language become for him the passage to freedom.

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