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Black Boy

Black Boy

by Richard Wright

Black Boy Chapter 12 Summary

  • Richard decides to try again at an optical company. He does find a job, although they refuse to teach him the trade and instead graciously allow him to clean up and do other menial tasks. Still, everything seems to be working out, and Richard is even able to work around white people without having a panic attack every two seconds.
  • At home, Bess is giving Richard the silent treatment. That’s A-OK with Richard.
  • A few days later, Mrs. Moss asks what’s up with him and Bess. Richard tells her that he and Bess aren’t going to have cute babies together anytime soon. She keeps badgering him about it and one day he says he is going to leave. At first she’s mad, and then she’s sad, and then she tells him that they’ll stop bothering him if he promises not to leave.
  • Now that he has some money, Richard starts saving to bring his family north. (Yeah, we were surprised too.) He even has enough money to buy all the books he wants, and he goes to work early to read the early edition of the daily paper.
  • The guys Richard works with seem a little dim. One guy, Shorty, is willing to debase himself by letting a white man kick him for what works out to be around $3 in 21st-century money. Richard and the guys complain a lot, but they never do anything.
  • One day, a white man at the shop asks if Richard is hungry. Duh, he’s been hungry his whole life—but he’d never admit it to a white man. Richard won’t even take the dollar the man offers him, because he knows that his life in the South depends on white men thinking that he’s content with his life.
  • Then something weird happens. Richard’s supervisor, Mr. Olin, asks him if they’re friends. This is weird, because obviously they’re not. To avoid awkwardness, Richard is all, sure, dude. We’re totally friends.
  • Then Olin tells Richard that some guy he barely knows, Harrison, wants to kill him (Richard). Olin tries to play this like it’s coming out of the goodness of his heart, but we gotta say it sounds suspicious.
  • Later Richard talks to Harrison and, surprise, surprise, they’ve been duped. Apparently, their bosses want them to fight. They agree not to kill each other after all, and that’s that.
  • Or at least it is until the next day when Olin forces Richard to take a knife, arranges for the two to have a showdown, and generally doesn’t stop trying to get them to kill each other for a whole week. Don’t they have some football to watch, or something?
  • Finally, the white guys up the stakes and offer the two boys $5 each to fight in a booking ring. Harrison jumps at the chance to get $5 (around $70 now) and eventually convinces Richard to agree. They agree that they won’t actually fight, although we can’t figure out how they’re planning to pull this one off.
  • The day comes, and it’s just like Fight Club, only without the complicated psychological plot. A bunch of white men in a damp, dark room want to see blood.
  • As soon as the match starts, Harrison and Richard’s agreement is out the door. They beat each other to pieces. Richard feels sick and dirty afterwards, like when you eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s while watching exploitative reality TV. Except worse.

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