Black Boy Critical Overview
by Kay Boyle

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

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‘‘Black Boy,’’ which was originally published in the New Yorker in 1932, was collected along with 13 other stories in 1933’s First Lover and Other Stories. Sandra Whipple Spanier wrote in Kay Boyle, Artist and Activist that nearly all of the stories in the volume ‘‘evidence the author’s long-standing concerns with fresh language, the individual quest for identity, and the need for—and failures of—love.’’ Spanier added that ‘‘a few chart new territory, moving away from the personal expression of personal experience toward communication of broader social concerns.’’ This shift is particularly relevant as Boyle’s work from the mid-1930s onward increasingly reflected the author’s interest in and understanding of the events that shaped the international community as the world went to war. Toward the end of her career, Boyle stated that she had come to believe that it was the duty of a writer to chronicle the world as she knew it and particularly its key issues. ‘‘Black Boy,’’ as much as Boyle’s more well-known fictions focusing on Nazism in Europe, concerns itself with pressing social inequities, ones that needed to be addressed.

At the time of its publication, many reviewers held a favorable opinion of First Lover and Other Stories. In the 1920s, Boyle had been concentrating on avant-garde fictions, and Karl Schriftgiesser of the Boston Transcript found these new stories to be ‘‘the matured work of an avowed experimentalist who has standards and subjects that are worth experimenting with.’’ Reviewers tended to comment on Boyle’s careful attention to words and expression.

Boyle had already established a reputation for herself as a wordsmith, which led some critics to expect a great deal from any new work from her. As Gladys Graham wrote in the Saturday Review of Literature, ‘‘Miss Boyle has set herself too high a standard for continuous realization.’’ Louis Kronenberger of the New York Times, however, believed the stories to show that Boyle had ‘‘not yet quite mastered her art.’’ Still, Kronenberger recognized Boyle’s uniqueness as a writer, stating:

If without losing any of her lightness and grace and sensibility, Miss Boyle can bring into play more of the toughness that already seems latent in her work, and can use words a little more gravely, she should become as significant as she already is individual.

In 1946, Thirty Stories —a work that included stories produced during a period of 20 years—was published, and again, Boyle’s use of language was a...

(The entire section is 606 words.)