Black Boy

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Grandpa Character Analysis

A Civil War veteran for the Union, Wright’s grandfather is denied his pension by a clerical mistake after the war that misspelled his name, and which he believes was not in fact a mistake and was instead racially motivated. Having helped to found African American freedom from slavery as a soldier, Grandpa’s experience serves as a kind of symbol of the way that African Americans were exploited and thwarted immediately upon the attainment of their independence. Grandpa is mostly absent, sick in bed, during Wright’s youth. But Wright pays his respects to Grandpa at his funeral, and wonders whether Grandpa’s life wasn’t ruined by the impossible quest to receive his pension from a racist and impersonal federal government.

Grandpa Quotes in Black Boy

The Black Boy quotes below are all either spoken by Grandpa or refer to Grandpa. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of Black Boy published in 2015.
Chapter 5 Quotes

Uncle Tom, Granny says to come at once. Grandpa’s dead.
You certainly are a prize fool. Don’t you know that that’s no way to tell a person that his father’s dead?
I ran all the way out here . . . I’m out of breath. I’m sorry.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Uncle Tom (speaker), Granny, Grandpa
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard famously notes at the end of this passage that "he can never seem to do what people expect of him." He has tried his best to rush over to Uncle Tom to tell him what has happened to his father - but Uncle Tom replies that Richard has not done this correctly. In a sense, Richard has never been socialized at all - he has not been taught how to behave with friends, or relatives, or strangers; how to act in polite company. Richard does not really know how a family works, how people sit down to eat together, or talk. For Richard, life has been a series of struggles simply to eat, sleep, clothe and house himself, and stay alive. So when Uncle Tom tells Richard he doesn't know what to do with himself, Tom is, though harsh, correct - Richard has simply never been taught what it means to be in the world. He knows only how to suffer through it. 

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Grandpa Character Timeline in Black Boy

The timeline below shows where the character Grandpa appears in Black Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Racism Theme Icon
Movement and Dislocation Theme Icon
Hunger, Illness, and Suffering Theme Icon
Society and the Individual Theme Icon
...of Jackson, and some of the more peaceful moments he and his brother enjoy with Grandpa and Granny. But Richard’s mother soon takes Richard and his brother aboard a train to... (full context)
Chapter 4
Hunger, Illness, and Suffering Theme Icon
Christianity and “Being Saved” Theme Icon
Society and the Individual Theme Icon
...to beat him, since he has done nothing to deserve punishment. Granny, Richard’s mother, and Grandpa finally persuade Richard to put down the knife, but Granny and Grandpa call Richard “wicked”... (full context)
Chapter 5
Racism 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 comes to the kitchen table one day that fall, and learns that Grandpa is very sick—that, as Granny puts it, he is now in his “final illness,” although... (full context)
Hunger, Illness, and Suffering Theme Icon
Christianity and “Being Saved” Theme Icon
Society and the Individual Theme Icon
...upstairs to say “goodbye” to his grandfather, but when he asks Granny about the words Grandpa mumbles to him one his deathbed, Granny slaps him, tells him to be quiet when... (full context)
Hunger, Illness, and Suffering Theme Icon
Christianity and “Being Saved” Theme Icon
Society and the Individual Theme Icon
Granny does not allow Richard to attend Grandpa’s funeral, but Richard does not mind overmuch, and he notes that life continues more or... (full context)