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Black Boy (The Restored Text Established by The Library of America) (Perennial Classics) Paperback – August 5, 1998
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About the Author
Richard Wright won international renown for his powerful and visceral depiction of the black experience. He stands today alongside such African-American luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and two of his novels, Native Son and Black Boy, are required reading in high schools and colleges across the nation. He died in 1960.
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"Black Boy" is an autobiography and I think that that is why I found it so powerful. Just to read, first person, how it was to grow up as a Black male in the South during the 10's and 20's is riveting. I know, academically and cognitively that slavery existed as did the Jim Crow era--but to read first hand accounts of the physical, mental, economical, social and psychological torment that many Blacks faced--that's another thing entirely.
Richard Wright writes openly about his family life and his extra-family life in Mississippi. He faced daily abuses from both, his near-fanatically religious family as well as the Whites he had to work for. But more than the physical and verbal abuses that Richard detailed, I found myself as much bothered by the transformation he had to make whenever confronting White people. He was not allowed to be a man and therefore act like one, he was always expected to be a boy. Even the job titles were "cleaning boy", "elevator boy", or just simply "boy for..." when they were hiring adults with families. Like a method actor, he would have to transmogrify into a slumped shouldered, downcast, foot-shuffling, speech deficient "boy". He could not stand up straight like a man, or look another in the eyes, or speak like a man, or even display any emotions beyond stupid gaiety, fear, or humility.
I found out quickly that Richard was not constructed for that place or that era--that's why he journeyed North. Whereas other Black folks were able to seamlessly and automatically turn on the "Black Boy" act and compartmentalize that part of their life; Richard found himself hard pressed to do so--which was a problem because his life depended upon it.
I was enthralled by the book. This particular copy has the addition of his life in Chicago which used to be printed as a separate book. Part two of this published edition deals with Richard as an adult in Chicago and being a part of the Communist Party. Although not as compelling, it was an interesting read into how the Communist Party could be so appealing to Blacks at that time. This book is a real page turner and a must read for a real historical reference to a dark era in American history.
Many reviewers claim that it isn't "interesting" because this is what every black American was going through during the Jim Crow period. Even if most black children during this era were drunks at age six, it's still interesting because it gives an insight as to what this race had to go through during this terrible time in history. Others say that it's a horrible book because Wright is blaming everyone around him, or thinks that he's superior to everyone else; the truth is, he has a right to feel that way. Wright grew up neglected (through no fault of his mother), hated by whites, and was abused by his grandmother because of his craving for literature. When everyone around him is suppressing him in some way, he's going to feel bitter and angry-- it's natural human emotion. And while his neighbors and friends were more concerned with getting jobs or playing in the woods, Wright wanted to discover literature and become an intellectual-- of course he's going to feel superior to them on an academic scale.
Overall, I believe this book is a very interesting read and recommend it to all who are interested in seeing how harsh the Jim Crow era was for people of color.