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Black Boy

Black Boy


by Richard Wright

Black Boy Chapter 17 Summary

  • Richard waits for hours in a line at the relief station, but something miraculous happens when he’s there: he notices that tons of people are realizing for the first time that they are not alone.
  • Richard wonders how their new awareness can be used to change the situation of black people in America. You know who else wonders things like that? Communists.
  • In an aside, Adult Richard tells us that, if he were in charge, he’d assign police to pick out the people who decided not to play by society’s rules anymore. Those ready for a revolution are the ones who will tear down the system.
  • The federal relief program assigns Richard his next job as an orderly at a medical research institute, where he cleans guinea pigs and other experimental animals.
  • The hospital is in the fanciest, most heavily segregated part of Chicago. Richard and his coworkers work in the basement, out of sight.
  • One of the guys Richard works with doesn’t quite get Richard's rants about racial problems (which we imagine must have been not only boring but endless), until one day he tells Richard he has a solution. It’s to give out a ton of guns, and let whoever doesn’t die be the winner.
  • That sounds like splendid social policy to us. We’ll get back to you on that after we go buy a stockpile of bulletproof clothing.
  • Richard, wisely, never talks to the guy about race ever again.
  • While working at the research institute, Richard remembers that he once wanted to be a medical research worker (he never told us about that!) and he’s very curious about everything going on. Of course the guys working with him couldn't care less, and the doctors, who are surely concerned for his well-being, say that his brains might explode if he learns too much.
  • We’re pretty sure they’re lying. We hope.
  • Every Saturday morning, Richard has to help the doctor cut the vocal cords of the dogs that he uses in his experiments. Richard is creeped out by the way these dogs howl silently, and they become symbols of silent suffering for him. (Check out "Symbols" for more on this.)
  • The drug they use to knock the dogs out is called Nembutal, and one day Richard sniffs it.
  • His coworker Brand sees him and freaks out, saying that he needs to get to a doctor right away.
  • Richard panics, and Brand laughs hysterically. Duh, it’s a big joke.
  • One day a boy watches Richard cleaning. The boy follows Richard all over and finally says that Richard took 17 minutes to clean the last room, and therefore all rooms should take 17 minutes to clean.
  • This is not cool, since the last room was pretty clean already, and apparently the kid doesn’t get that averages would be a better way to estimate time.
  • Another day, two of the guys Richard works with get in a fight. They fight all the time, so this isn’t unusual.
  • What is weird is that this particular fight goes from stupid to violent in about five seconds flat. It makes no sense at all. They’re threatening to kill each other over their choice of newspaper. Seriously. Go check it out. It’s like getting into a fight over whether MTV orVH1 is better, when everyone knows that both channels got stupid when they stopped playing music videos.
  • Knives and icepicks come out, and the whole thing goes on until the research room is a mess and animals are all over the place. With 30 minutes to spare, the guys corral the animals in a scene straight out of the Three Stooges, and hope no one notices.
  • And somehow, no one does.

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