Study Guide

Black Boy Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By Richard Wright

Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

Anything seemed possible, likely, feasible, because I wanted everything to be possible...Because I had no power to make things happen outside of me in the objective world, I made things happen within. Because my environment was bare and bleak, I endowed it with unlimited potentialities, redeemed it for the sake of my own hungry and cloudy yearning. (1.2.568)

Richard has no agency, which is a fancy way of saying that he’s totally powerless over his world. Instead, he simply imagines magical things happening. Is magic just another form of wishing?

My spontaneous fantasies lived in my mind because I felt completely helpless in the face of this threat that might come upon me at any time, and because there did not exist to my knowledge any possible course of action which could have saved me if I had ever been confronted with a white mob. My fantasies were a moral bulwark that enabled me to feel I was keeping my emotional integrity whole, a support that enabled my personality to limp through days lived under the threat of violence. (1.2.512 )

Without his dreams, Richard would deflate just like a balloon. He needs them to stay afloat, even if he knows that they probably won’t come true.

Often, when there was no food in the house, I would dream of the Government’s sending a letter […] But no letter like that ever came, and Grandpa was so sullen most of the time that I stopped dreaming of him and his hopes. (1.5.187)

Richard isn’t just content to dream his dreams; he has to dream someone else’s dreams, too.

"You’ll never amount to anything," he said, shaking his head and blinking his eyes in astonishment.

"I’m not worried about that," I said. "All I want you to do is keep away from me, now and always..."

"You’ll end on the gallows," he predicted.

"If I do, you’ll have nothing to do with it," I said.

[…]

"Somebody will yet break your spirit," he said.

"It won’t be you!"

"You’ll get yours someday!"

"You won’t be the one to give it to me!" (1.6.42-57)

Uncle Tom tells Richard what lots of people want to tell him: he’s no big shot, and he’s going to fail soon enough. But if Uncle Tom thinks he’s going to be the one keeping Richard down, he’s got another thing coming. Richard has way bigger fish to fry—or knife.

I was building up in me a dream which the entire educational system of the South had been rigged to stifle. I was feeling the very thing that the state of Mississippi had spent millions of dollars to make sure that I would never feel; I was becoming aware of the thing that the Jim Crow laws had been drafted and passed to keep out of my consciousness; I was acting on impulses that southern senators in the nation’s capital had striven to keep out of N**** life; I was beginning to dream the dreams that the state had said were wrong, that the schools had said were taboo. (1.7.123)

Sounds like a conspiracy, doesn’t it? We wish this actually were some kind of Bigfoot, Loch Ness monster sort of stuff, but it’s the real deal. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Somewhere in the dead of the southern night my life had switched onto the wrong track and, without my knowing it, the locomotive of my heart was rushing down a dangerously steep slope, heading for a collision, heedless of the warning red lights that blinked all about me, the sirens and the bells and the screams that filled the air. (1.7.126)

Why is it so dangerous for Richard to dream? Why could it end in death? Could it be because Richard has no idea how to conduct a train?

"Wake up there, boy!" Mr. Olin said one day.

"Sir!" I answered for the lack of a better word.

"You act like you’ve stolen something," he said. (1.13.77)

This scene rocks, because Mr. Olin gets it without even realizing that he’s got it. Richard did steal something: a little bit of the American Dream.

Yet I knew—with that part of my mind that the whites had given me—that none of my dreams was possible. Then I would hate myself for allowing my mind to dwell upon the unattainable. Thus the circle would complete itself. (2.15.39)

Now that Richard is getting older, he doesn’t want to dream about unattainable stuff anymore. Evidently wanting to be awesome is little kid stuff.

To solve this tangle of balked emotion, I loaded the empty part of the ship of my personality with fantasies of ambition to keep it from toppling over into the sea of senselessness. Like any other American, I dreamed of going into business and making money; I dreamed of working for a firm that would allow me to advance until I reached an important position; I even dreamed of organizing secret groups of blacks to fight all whites […]" (2.15.39)

"When I grow up I want to be a doctor, and a ballerina, and an astronaut, and a chef, and a truck driver... "

Slowly I began to forge in the depths of my mind a mechanism that repressed all the dreams and desires that the Chicago streets, the newspapers, the movies were evoking in me. I was going through a second childhood; a new sense of the limit of the possible was being born in me. (2.15.40)

Somehow, Richard isn’t quite as cute during this second childhood. We liked him better when he was all young and naïve—except when he was running around getting drunk at six years old. That wasn’t too cool.