Study Guide

Black Boy Literature and Writing

By Richard Wright

Literature and Writing

She whispered to me the story of Bluebeard and His Seven Wives and I ceased to see the porch, the sunshine, her face, everything. As her words fell upon my new ears, I endowed them with a reality that welled up from somewhere within me. (1.2.23)

Literature creates a reality for Richard that is more real than "reality" itself. It’s like the first virtual reality game, and he doesn’t even have to buy a new console.

The tremendous upheaval that my words had caused made me know that there lay back of them much more than I could figure out, and I resolved that in the future I would learn the meaning of why they had beat and denounced me. (1.2.94)

This is the first time Richard figures out that words mean something, and that they can actually make things happen. Like making your grandma try to strangle you with a towel, for example.

"Did you really write that story?" they asked me.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because I wanted to."

"Where did you get it from?"

"I made it up."

"You didn’t. You copied it out of a book." (1.7.85)

Even before people could spend their time doing exciting things like looking at YouTube and breading their cats, writing was so boring no one could imagine you did it willingly.

"Son, you ought to be more serious," she said. "You’re growing up now and you won’t be able to get jobs if you let people think that you’re weak-minded. Suppose the superintendent of schools would ask you to teach here in Jackson, and he found out that you had been writing stories?" (1.7.118)

Only where Richard is from could writing a story be considered a sign that you’re not the brightest crayon in the box.

Yes, this man was fighting, fighting with words. He was using words as a weapon, using them as one would use a club. Could words be weapons? Well, yes, for here they were. Then, maybe, perhaps, I could use them as a weapon? No. It frightened me. (1.13.31)

Words are very useful for a lot of things. For example, cutting up your enemies. Here, Richard is a young Jedi: scared of his new power, but eager to learn.

While I crammed my stomach I read Stein’s Three Lives, Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, and Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, all of which revealed new realms of feeling. But the most important discoveries came when I veered from fiction proper into the field of psychology and sociology. (2.15.167)

Richard talks about books like he’s outlining his new diet. Sure, he can still read fiction—as long as he balances it with enough fiber to keep things moving along.

But these self-doubts did not last long; I dulled the sense of loss through reading, reading, writing and more writing. (2.15.186)

Other people turn to drugs; Richard turns to literature. At least with books you can borrow them from the library.

"Richard, are you ill?" my mother called.

"No. I’m reading." (2.18.34)

We can see how his mom got the two confused. They share a lot of the same symptoms: cold sweats, seeing things that aren’t there, staying up late at night, a lack of interest in eating. We know those symptoms, and it was years before we were cured—er, graduated.

My writing was my way of seeing, my way of living, my way of feeling; and who could change his sight, his notion of direction, his senses? (2.19.173)

Is Richard saying that he can experience the world, all from the seat of his writing desk? We’ll leave you with this quote: Butterfly in the sky/I can go twice as high/Take a look/It’s in a book/A Reading Rainbow. Truer words have never been sung.

Humbly now, with no vaulting dream of achieving a vast unity, I wanted to try to build a bridge of words between me and that world outside, that world which was so distant and elusive that it seemed unreal.

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human. (2.10.105)

Bridges, and echoes, and hunger: man, that’s a lot of metaphors. We get it Richard, you want to touch people with your books. No need for the fancy language.