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Black Boy

Black Boy

by Richard Wright

Analysis: Narrator Point of View

Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?

First Person (Central Narrator) 

We get really close to Richard over the course of Black Boy. We don’t get to know very much about anyone else, but we know a ton about Richard. A little too much. After a little less than 400 pages, it starts getting a bit claustrophobic up in his brain. (Imagine how Richard feels.)

The great thing about this perspective is that we feel everything that Richard feels, like when he sees the chain gang:

As the strange animals came abreast of me I saw that the legs of the black animals were held together by irons and that their arms were linked with heavy chains that clanked softly and musically as they moved. […] One of the strange, striped animals turned a black face upon me. "What are you doing?" I asked in a whisper, not knowing if one actually spoke to elephants. (1.2.251-1.2.307)

What’s awesome about this is that Wright’s technique works on two levels. On one level, he’s brilliantly conveying the sense of being four years old and not being able to understand what you see. On another level, the adult Wright is giving us the clues we need to know exactly what Richard is looking at. The whole book works, like with the perspective of Richard as he’s living his life and also Wright as he’s narrating his life. It’s super cool.

But there’s a downside to this all-Richard, all-the-time approach. You can’t hang out with the emo kid all day, you know? When Ned appears and tells Richard that his brother has died, we’re left wondering, "Wait, who are you?"

If Black Boy is an accurate portrayal of Wright’s mental life, we can understand why he has so few friends.

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