Black Boy

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Black Boy Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Aunt Maggie also moves to Memphis, as she is looking for work. Maggie, Richard's mother and brother, and Richard all decide simply to leave for Chicago as soon as possible, for they worry that, “if they plan too much,” they will never have the courage to leave. Richard tells his boss and others at the optician’s shop that he’s leaving, and though they ask why he’s going to Chicago, and wonder if the books he reads have encouraged him to leave, Richard simply replies that he is moving north to be with his mother, who also wants to move there. Shorty says a rather bitter goodbye to Richard, wondering if he, too, could ever leave the south, then concluding that he’s not motivated enough to get out from under the authority of the whites who treat him as a kind of vulgar comic relief.
The family’s actual trip to Chicago is in some ways anticlimactic. Once they have assembled in Memphis, they realize that Chicago is not too far away, and that it is more important to travel quickly than it is to plan out every little detail of the trip. Richard has already, in some sense, made the “break” from Memphis African-American society, immersing himself completely in literature, and devoting himself to a life of reading and writing. This break is most clearly exemplified in Richard’s goodbye with Shorty—although Shorty is happy for Richard, Shorty also seems to recognize the incredible effort Richard has made toward securing a better life for himself in the North and his own inability to make such a leap and thus to escape his own forced complicity in his loss of dignity.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Movement and Dislocation Theme Icon
Hunger, Illness, and Suffering Theme Icon
Christianity and “Being Saved” Theme Icon
Reading and Writing Theme Icon
Society and the Individual Theme Icon
Richard states that he and his family left the next day, and that the reading he did as a young man “evoked in him vague glimpses of life’s possibilities,” and gave him the ultimate impetus to try for a different life in the north. Richard tells the reader that white people in the south never learned his true nature, and that he had never “known himself” while in the south, as he had spent so much time trying to understand the will of white people, and to appease them.
Richard sees the issues of the South as originating from a lack of understanding, a lack of empathy—whites don't (or refuse to) understand blacks, and as a consequence blacks cannot know themselves. It is interesting that literature, by exposing people to the viewpoints of others, seems like it is the cure for what Richard believes ails the South.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Movement and Dislocation Theme Icon
Hunger, Illness, and Suffering Theme Icon
Christianity and “Being Saved” Theme Icon
Reading and Writing Theme Icon
Society and the Individual Theme Icon
But Richard also concludes that his upbringing in the south, and the hardships it provided on a nearly constant basis, are now too deep inside him to ever be removed. He speaks of himself as a “plant,” one that grows a certain way in the south, and is native to it, but one that must be moved to “alien soil” in order to grow larger and more fully. Richard goes north with his family, “full of a hazy notion that life could be lived with dignity, that the personalities of others should not be violated,” and that there might be some greater sense of fairness in the way human beings interact with one another. The memoir ends.
An important analogy is here laid out at the end of the memoir. Richard feels that the South can never be stripped away from him, but that the lessons he has been taught in the South can be taken to a new place, a new context, and, with luck, can be grafted onto some of the new knowledge Richard has gained from life experience and from books. Richard does not wish to abandon his roots—he wishes instead to take what he has learned and make a new and better life for himself, in a freer, more open environment where people interact as humans rather than as black and white. The memoir therefore ends with a sense of hope.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Movement and Dislocation Theme Icon
Hunger, Illness, and Suffering Theme Icon
Christianity and “Being Saved” Theme Icon
Reading and Writing Theme Icon
Society and the Individual Theme Icon