Black Boy

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Shorty Character Analysis

The elevator operator in Richard’s building in Memphis (where he works at the second optometry shop), Shorty is willing to participate in racial prejudice in order to gain small amounts of change from white elevator-riders. Although Richard criticizes Shorty for this, Shorty says only that he needs the money and doesn’t mind making fun of himself.

Shorty Quotes in Black Boy

The Black Boy quotes below are all either spoken by Shorty or refer to Shorty. 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 12 Quotes

How in God’s name can you do that?
I needed a quarter, and I got it.
But a quarter can’t pay you for what he did to you.
. . . My ass is tough and quarters is scarce.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Shorty (speaker)
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard realizes that many in Memphis do whatever they can do make their way in a city that is still staunchly segregated according to occupation. Shorty runs the elevator in the office where Richard works, at an optician's shop, and Shorty is willing to behave in a manner that whites view as stereotypically African American in order to receive a small tip. Richard considers this an abominable thing, even though earlier, and to a lesser degree, Richard has acknowledged that there were ways he showed deference to those in Jackson in order to survive, and not to "make waves" among whites in the community.

But at this point, Richard has vowed that he will be true to the principles of education and racial justice that have caused him to seek out life in the North - with Memphis as a way-station to Chicago. Thus, Richard is not willing to live as Shorty does in order to survive. 

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Shorty Character Timeline in Black Boy

The timeline below shows where the character Shorty appears in Black Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 12
Racism Theme Icon
Hunger, Illness, and Suffering Theme Icon
Society and the Individual Theme Icon
...Memphis African American men and women in appeasing the white people for whom they work. Shorty, the elevator man in Richard’s building—and a squat, comical fellow—often makes himself into a racial... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Hunger, Illness, and Suffering Theme Icon
Christianity and “Being Saved” Theme Icon
Society and the Individual Theme Icon
Richard becomes friends with Shorty and other African American men who work in the building in service occupations, and learns... (full context)
Chapter 13
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
...He realizes that he will not be able to be deferential to white authority, like Shorty, nor will he survive forever in a “business” context with whites, whose power Richard resents... (full context)
Chapter 14
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
...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... (full context)