by Richard Wright
Grandpa Wilson (Papa, Richard Wilson)
If you think Granny is bad, wait until you see the prize she married. Grandpa ran away from slavery to fight in the Civil War, but as Richard says, "he was convinced that the war had not really ended, that it would start again" (1.5.192). Pretty crazy, right?
Well, imagine risking your life to run away from your slave master, making it to the other side of the country, fighting in grueling battles, and then winning—only to hear later, "Oh yeah all that stuff you were fighting for and we were promising you? The equality stuff? Yeah, never mind."
We'd probably go a little crazy, too.
Like Richard’s dad, Grandpa has all the emotional range of an angry teaspoon—especially since we only see him when he’s about to beat Richard for whatever it is he did wrong this time. Even when Grandpa laughs, his smile is barely distinguishable from an angry grimace.
Okay, so he’s angry all the time. Still, he must have lots of exciting stories to tell about his time fighting in the war—like how he felt, what he saw, and whether or not he’d seen Lincoln. But every time Richard asks about it, all Grandpa says is, "You, git ‘way from me, you young’un" (1.5.179). No fount of wisdom, here. Just abuse and dismissal, as usual.
By the time we meet Grandpa, he’s just an impotent old man. Granny calls him out occasionally to scare the children, but even that’s not effective. It's actually pretty sad to see what’s happened to this war hero, kinda like if Superman got old and played Yahtzee all day while little brats made fun of his costume. Or maybe that he got a job in an insurance office working for a tiny despot.
Like Richard's dad, Grandpa is more of a symbol than a well-rounded character, showing us how America treats black men. Even though fighting in one of the most important wars in American history is basically the manliest thing there is, he still ends up powerless in the face of something as stupid and minuscule as a spelling mistake. Here’s the moral, Shmoopers: use that spellcheck.
Just like Richard’s mom, Grandpa constantly and meaninglessly suffers until the day he dies. It isn’t physical suffering, but the suffering of having your dignity (not to mention, money) taken away from you. And, sadly, that’s the case for nearly all the black men in this novel.