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Richard is a big kid now, hanging out with the tough guys. And by big and tough we mean 11 years old, but whatever. They hate white people together, speak in deep voices together, and call each other the n-word (see, they did this back in 1919, don’t blame hip-hop). These are his bros. Bros for life.
Richard and his bros talk smack constantly. He gives us an example and they almost speak according to a script, like this charming example: "Crush that nigger’s nuts, nigger!"
"Hit that nigger!"
"Aw, fight, you goddamn niggers!"
"Sock ’im in his f--k--g piece!"
"Make ’im bleed!" (1.12.271)
Whew. And that little selection doesn’t even include the poop jokes, the humorous asides about war and death, and the constant wondering why white people hate them so much. It would read like a high-quality HBO show if it weren’t so sad.
On Sundays the bros go to church. They’re not into it for the religion, but they do like making fun of the hymns and Bible. They replace "Amazing Grace" with parodies á la "Jingle Bells."
When they’re not in church, they’re fighting white boys. The two groups have battles that are every bit as epic as the Hunger Games. Unlike the Hunger Games, these battles aren’t broadcast on national TV. In fact, the boys have to hide their battle scars so they don’t get in trouble with their moms.
One time, Richard gets a huge gash on his head from a broken bottle and has to go to the hospital. He promises his mom that he will stop fighting, but he’s totally lying. The law of the street comes before the law of the mom.
When Richard’s mom gets sick again, he starts his first job at the tender age of 11, carrying lunches for workers.
Carrying lunches turns out not be a particularly lucrative career, so the family has to move three times because they can’t pay the rent. Each place they move to is worse than the last.
Meanwhile, Richard’s mom is getting sicker. One morning, she doesn’t answer them when they call her.
Neighbors come to help out and realize that she’s had a stroke. It gets worse. She’s paralyzed now and needs constant medical attention.
Richard has the genius idea to write to his grandmother and complain that his childhood is like totally over now. Grandma actually comes through for him and asks her kids (all nine of them) to throw in some cash to take care of the family. They do more than send cash: they descend on Richard and his brother to help out.
This is great. His mom’s going to get the care she needs, Richard won’t have to work, and both boys are going to be able to go to school. Awesome, right?
Too bad that Richard is still ruinously antisocial, because he starts acting up when he’s not cowering in a corner.
He does try to be good; really, he does. Unfortunately, his brother is staying up north with Aunt Maggie (the nice one). Richard decides to stay with Uncle Clark, who lives closer to his mom.
Uncle Clark and his wife are not exactly welcoming. Let’s put it this way: if they were running a bed and breakfast, they’d have one star on Yelp. Richard wonders if he made the right decision. (We’re going with no.)
The next day he goes to a new school. It’s awesome. His teacher loves him and he makes a new friend right away. Ha! No, actually he gets into a fight. Someone pushes a guy into him and it’s on. What is wrong with this guy?
The fight ends in a draw, but Richard has proven that he is no pushover. He is accepted and doesn’t have to fight anymore. Things are all good, and it seems like Richard might actually have a chance—which makes this next scene so depressing, but also, let’s face it, kind of funny.
Uncle Clark’s landlord, Mr. Burden, tells Richard that his son died in the bed that Richard sleeps on. Uncle Clark is in the background, going like, "Naw, man, don’t tell him that!" but it’s too late. No more sleeping for Richard.
Uncle Clark tells him to get over it, but he obviously doesn’t know Richard. After a week, a sleep-deprived Richard asks to go home.
At first, Uncle Clark wants him to wait out the school year, but he changes his mind pretty quickly when Richard curses. This scene is actually really impressive. We can’t even curse like that (not that we would want to, or anything. Ahem.).
Richard is super excited to see his mom, who’s about to have another operation. Unfortunately, all the operation reveals is that she has a clot in her brain.
And finally, here comes the moral of this chapter: his mother’s suffering changes Richard. When he grows up, he tries to find meaning in suffering.