Study Guide

Black Boy Isolation

By Richard Wright


I had already begun to sense that my feelings varied too far from those of the people around me for me to blab about what I felt. (1.3.306)

From an early age, Richard knew he was a little "different." He’s also smart enough to know that crowds attack people who are too "different" with pitchforks and axes.

Again and again I vowed that someday I would end this hunger of mine, this apartness, this eternal difference; and I did not suspect that I would never get intimately into their lives, that I was doomed to live with them but not of them, that I had my own strange and separate road, a road which in later years would make them wonder how I had come to tread it. (1.5.51)

Walking a different path can be lonely, but it’s the only way to do something no one else has done.

I walked home slowly, asking myself what on earth was the matter with me, why it was I never seemed to do things as people expected them to be done. Every word and gesture I made seemed to provoke hostility. […] Finding no answer, I told myself that I was a fool to worry about it, that no matter what I did I would be wrong somehow as far as my family was concerned. (1.5.230)

Richard is such an oddball that even his family can’t handle him. If only there were an AOL chat room for strange, isolated bookworms.

I had learned to know these people better in five hours than I had learned to know my own family in five years.

Later, after I had grown to understand the peasant mentality of Bess and her mother, I learned the full degree to which my life at home had cut me off, not only from white people but from N****es as well. (1.11.110)

When he gets out from under the thumb of his family, Richard is surprised to see that some people are just—nice. And friendly. And not out to beat him every time he opens his mouth.

I wanted a life in which there was a constant oneness of feeling with others, in which the basic emotions of life were shared, in which common memory formed a common past, in which collective hope reflected a national future.(2.15.170)

Richard talks a lot about how he has no friends and phooey, who needs ‘em anyway. But, come on, the whole book is about trying to find connection. Your words ring a little hollow, dude.

And I knew that my words sounded wild and foolish in my environment, where reading was almost unknown, where the highest item of value was a dime or a dollar, an apartment or a job; where, if one aspired at all, it was to be a doctor or a lawyer, a shopkeeper or a politician. […] I never criticized them or praised them, yet they felt in my neutrality a deeper rejection of them than if I had cursed them. (2.15.178)

Yeah... Richard isn’t judging the people in his environment. He’s just saying they drool. That’s totally not judging.

The day I begged bread from the city officials was the day that showed me I was not alone in my loneliness, society had cast millions of others with me. (2.17.3)

You know what they say: misery loves company, and there’s nothing like seeing that millions of other people are sad to make you feel less alone.

My life as a N**** in America had led me to feel—though my helplessness had made me try to hide it from myself—that the problem of human unity was more important than bread, more important than physical living itself; for I felt that without a common bond uniting men, without a continuous current of shared thought and feeling circulating through the social system, like blood coursing through the body, there could be no living worthy of being called human. (2.18.30)

What is humanity, for Richard? Can you be human and not be connected to your fellow man? Does it count if we have 538 Facebook friends?

I had lived so utterly isolated a life that the club filled for me a need that could not be imagined by the white members who were becoming disgusted with it, whose normal living had given them what I was so desperately trying to get. (2.18.86)

Richard is like a starving man surrounded by a bunch of guys who have just had lunch. He’s never had friendship, and now he wants as much of it as he can get.

Alone, they said, a man was weak; united with others, he was strong. Therefore, they habitually feared a man who stood alone. Communism spelt the unity of human life, and when a Communist, newly risen from his oppressed isolation and feeling strange and lonely because of it, saw another man seeking seclusion, he became afraid of him. (2.19.379)

This was kind of obvious, Dick. It’s in the name. Commun-ism. People who believe in community. Of course they think loners are weirdos. Duh.