In many ways the opposite of the symbol of books—the means by which Richard
is liberated—is the switch, used for the beatings that make Richard’s life in the South so terrible. Although Richard lives in fear that he will be hurt by whites—who hate him because of the color of his skin—the switch is most often used by people within Richard’s own family. His Uncle Tom
beats him for little reason, and his Aunt Addie
wishes to beat him after believing, wrongly, that Richard has littered her classroom with walnut shells. Granny
and Richard’s mother
also beat Richard when he is young, fearing that he has no religious spirit, that he is a “plague” in their household. And Pease
, at Crane’s
shop, threaten also to beat Richard (in their case, with an even more terrible piece of steal), simply because Richard has dared to learn about the trade. The switch, and other implements of physical violence, represents the narrow social and racial roles Richard is forced to fill both by Whites and his own family in the South, and the consequences of the violation of these roles. And it is only after his escape to Chicago that Richard can be free, or less fearful, of punishment and bodily harm.