The novel Black Boy by Richard Wright is about understanding American history from the eyes of an African-American boy growing up in the early twentieth century. Wright journeys through his early childhood in this semi-autobiographical book, not understanding that there is such a chasm between whites and blacks. He is often faced with circumstances in which he is supposed to behave in a certain way because of his race and status in life, but he often acts in the opposite manner. He is determined to leave the Jim Crow south to pursue a prosperous life elsewhere. Wright’s story is typical of the African-American experience in the antebellum south where blacks were “free” but kept in their place by centuries of oppression at the hands of the white man. Felgar, in writing about Wright’s journey, notes that “Without a generous supply of determination and will, he would have become what the system around him was designed to force him to become: a subhuman creature (70). This was the lot in life for the blacks all the way up to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
As a matter of literary record and a sense of the time when it was originally written in the evolution of American history, Black Boy, Part One, was originally published in an expurgated (censored) version in 1945 and it was not until 1991 that Wright published Part Two of the novel (Felgar 62). Part One ends with Wright’s eventual escape from the oppression of the South and has a “happy ending” simply saying that Wright went on to be a successful writer in the North. Part Two continues Wright’s story and his flirtation with Communism because “black equality is one of its major tenets” (Felgar 68). However, Wright became disillusioned with Communism when the leaders insisted that he write on political topics instead of the “bourgeois” (Felgar 68) subject matter that he wished to pursue. Wright, like many other African-Americans of this time in American history, was searching for his place in the bigger world, a place where he felt he belonged and was comfortable. The realization of this dream only came with the Civil Rights Movement and the move toward equality for the African-Americans. Part Two ends with Wright ending up in New York City and pledging to himself that he was going to “create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all” with his writing (Felgar 68).
Felgar, Robert. Student Companion to Richard Wright. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost).