What’s Up With the Title?
Apparently Wright is an indecisive guy. He went through three different titles for Black Boy before it was published, even without help from his editor. Maybe he’s just a perfectionist, but it’s clear that he wanted to find a title that was just right for his breakout book.
The first potential title was Black Confession. We can’t be certain why Wright chose this title at first, but he probably expected his story to be something like a confession to the world about what life as a black person really is like.
That title was scrapped for the second title, American Hunger. This is actually our favorite, because it really captures what Wright seemed to be saying with his book. Wright is so heavy with his hunger symbolism, and it is so important to the story of Richard growing up, that it seems to make sense for the title to reflect that.
In the end, Wright went with Black Boy. In a letter to his editor, Wright writes this, "Now, this is not very original, but I think it covers the book. It is honest. Straight. And many people say it to themselves when they see a Negro and wonder how he lives. Black boy seems to me to be not only a title, but also a kind of heading of the whole general theme." (Source, p. 408)
By using the term "black boy," Wright seems to be challenging readers to rethink its meaning. Black men used to be called boys, since black people were considered to be like children. The term went along with a whole host of ugly stereotypes, including stupidity, carelessness, and laziness. By titling his book Black Boy, Wright says to the reader, "This is your black boy. Is he who you thought he was? Do you still think he’s a boy?"