Study Guide

Black Boy Writing Style

By Richard Wright

Writing Style

Episodic, Cinematic, SAT-astic

Plot? Who Needs A Plot?

We wouldn’t exactly call Black Boy a traditional novel—well, it’s not supposed to be, since it’s modeled on autobiography. Instead of one long smooth narrative, Richard’s story jumps all over the place, more like a series of flashbacks than anything else. You can almost hear Richard thinking, "Oh hey, I remember when this happened."

Notice how many times Richard says "one time" or "one day." (Hint: it's a lot.) Each small story (let’s use the fancy word and call them "vignettes") is independent, and together they trace out the journey of Richard’s life.

I Can Picture You in Movies, Kid

Wright’s language is so visual that it almost seems begging to be turned into a movie. Take this scene: "There was the speechless astonishment of seeing a hog stabbed through the heart, dipped into boiling water, scraped, split open, gutted, and strung up gaping and bloody" (1.1.58). You can just see the hog being killed, cleaned, and cooked. (Anyone else hungry for some bacon? Just us?)

Okay, so you want something less bloody. How about this: "There was the bitter amusement of going into town with Granny and watching the baffled stares of white folks who saw an old white woman leading two undeniably N**** boys in and out of stores on Capitol Street" (1.2.103). The way Wright writes from outside himself makes even this heady, mental autobiography into a visual feast.

In the end, what we mean by saying Wright’s writing is cinematic is that his scenes play out in your head, just like a movie. Even though he doesn’t use fancy flowery language, his point gets across loud and clear.

All the Words Money Can Buy

Let’s be honest: sometimes Wright sounds a little like Mr. Spock. His language seems a little too stiff and sophisticated for the subject material, like he is throwing in all the big SAT words that he can find. There’s "internecine strife" in the Communist Party, not just infighting (2.19.360). People don’t curse; they hurl "invectives" (1.6.62). Granny and Aunt Addie aren’t brown-nosing Richard; they’re displaying "urgent solicitude" (1.5.2).

These two-dollar words might seem to take away from the story, making it more difficult to sympathize with Richard. It makes sense that people would call him an intellectual or stuck up because the language is too formal for a normal kid, much less one who grew up starving on the streets of Memphis.

But here’s a nicer way to think about it: Richard loves words. Remember? He loves words like Justin Bieber loves hairspray. These aren’t just fancy words to throw around on a college application; they’re a way to legitimize his life story.