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Black Boy

Black Boy

by Richard Wright

Black Boy Chapter 16 Summary

  • Richard finally passes the postal examination this time. Hooray! He works during the day and spends hours writing in a stream of consciousness, trying to capture the world around him on paper.
  • He’s not satisfied with his writing. He wants it to have more theory and form behind it, but he doesn’t know how to learn that sort of stuff.
  • So the writing isn’t going well, but surprisingly his personal life is chugging along nicely. At the postal office Richard makes friends with a cynical Irish dude who seems to have grown up just like Richard.
  • He also finds a Negro literacy club full of Puritans who seem more obsessed with sex than anything else.
  • Finally he meets the Garveyites. These guys are the best of the people he’s meeting, because they actually seem to be trying to make their lives better. He does kind of want to point out that Africans don’t exactly see them as brothers and sisters, but he holds his tongue (for once).
  • Richard ignores the rumors of unemployment until, slowly but surely, it begins affecting him. He’s not appointed to a regular clerk, he notices that there’s less mail coming through the office, his hours are cut, and finally he realizes that he has no money. Then he sees a newspaper headline announcing that the stock market has crashed.
  • The universe evidently decides that Richard hasn’t quite had enough, because his mom, aunt, and brother all suddenly come down with major illnesses.
  • Richard manages to pick up an insurance sales job from his cousin’s company. He works so hard that he can't even read or write. Instead, he takes up a new hobby: sleeping with the ladies that he sells policies to, in exchange for paying their premiums. You might know this by another name: prostitution.
  • Besides conning people out of their money with shady insurance policies, Richard is required to help in another swindle. He has to switch out the policy papers with stricter ones than the policyholders originally signed for. Basically Richard is cheating them without them noticing, like what Facebook does on the regular when it changes its terms of service.
  • Richard can’t figure out how to stop it, so he opts to forget about it—again, just like everyone does with Facebook.
  • While out collecting his premiums, Richard starts to notice the black Communists. They’re not like other black people, and they’re very passionate about whatever it is they do. They imitate Lenin in the way they dress and talk. Richard thinks this is all a little silly, but also kind of cool.
  • The depression gets worse and Richard loses even his shady insurance job. He has to move into an even worse apartment, one so bad that his mom cries when she sees it. Remember, this is a lady who has lived with rats and raw sewage.
  • Then one morning when there is no food for anyone to eat, Richard takes the walk of shame down to the welfare office to get some assistance.
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