Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth

by Richard Wright

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Read a novel by Ann Petty or any other member of the "Wright School" (Chester Himes, Willard Savoy, Philip B. Kaye etc.) and compare with Black Boy. In the case of Petty's The Street, address the difference in terms of gender and the world of the urban black in the cities of post-WWII America.

What difference does it make whether one reads Black Boy or American Hunger to one's understanding of Wright's critical view of America? Does America "get off easy in Black Boy because, after all, Wright does escape to the better life in the North?

Research the issue of Jim Crow and then compare that environment to race relations today: do we live in a more tolerant, egalitarian, society? Discuss current issues such as: Californian challenges to Affirmative action, the declaration of English as the one and only language in some states; the unequal distribution of minorities and the effects on busing, services, insurance, health care, or any other issue.

Think about perceptions' Wright repeatedly remarks about his refusal at first to adopt proper Jim Crow mannerisms and then the necessity of his having to do so—are there roles that we play based on gender, class, or racial perceptions and are these influenced or based upon information gathered from television sitcoms? Further, what are the perceptions taught us by media on this issue of behavior (think for example about programs like Cops versus a network ten o'clock news program)?

Find some images which were around during WWII and after; get a book of posters from the library showing the overt effort to, first, get people behind the war effort and then get people in the home. After viewing these images, consider the way in which Wright presents the same era. For example, the few white women he does encounter throughout the narrative (especially in the second part of "American Hunger") do not seem to fit the images you will find in the posters. Think about the aim of "urban realism" in light of these posters; think about Wright's struggle to write for people.

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