Black Boy

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Black Boy, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Black Boy is a memoir of racism, racial identity, and the difficulty of surviving as a young African-American man in the South. As a boy, Richard sees that some people have lighter skin, and other people darker skin. But he only understands what these distinctions mean, culturally and politically, after observing the bigotry of whites and the fear with which many black families live. Thus, Black Boy shows in brutal detail the consequences of Southern…

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One of the defining features of Black Boy is its constantly shifting setting. Richard Wright’s young life is one of movement—from one place to another, especially in his younger years—and dislocation, both physical and psychological. Wright is born in Mississippi, and Jackson, the capital of the state, serves as his home base for much of his young life. But after his father leaves the family for another woman, and especially after his mother’s stroke and…

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Black Boy details Wright’s physical discomfort and the privations of his life in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Many characters in the memoir also suffer greatly, because African-American families in the white-dominated South do not have access to proper food, medicine, and other life necessities.

Wright is hungry for almost the entire memoir. In the beginning, after his father leaves his mother for another woman, Wright’s father refuses to pay alimony, and Wright and his brother

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Christianity is the dominant moral and religious system of the American South at the time of Wright’s memoir. Many African Americans in Mississippi seem to place their entire faith, and hope for salvation, in the Christian church. But Wright is not able to believe in God, and his struggles against religious authority contribute to his desire to leave the South.

Wright’s mother is not especially religious (except for a brief period, during remission from her…

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Black Boy is also a memoir of one man’s personal education—his love affair with reading and writing, and the way in which these intellectual acts open him up to the wider world.

Wright understands, from a young age, that he feels most satisfied when he is reading the great ideas of the world, and when he is writing his own stories. Wright pens a few stories as a child, one of which is serialized in…

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Black Boy details the efforts of one man to chart his own path—to realize his potential in a world that often seems impossible to navigate. In this way, it is a memoir of one individual, Richard Wright, as he develops within, and pushes against, the constraints and rules of Southern society. In particular, Wright struggles against white oppression, against black expectations for “normal” behavior, and against feelings of his own rootlessness.

Wright’s difficulties with…

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