In the seventh grade, Richard again searches for employment in order to make enough money to buy food for himself and books to read. He asks his fellow students if they know of any work helping white families with chores, and he is recommended to one family, where the woman of the house asks if Richard steals. Richard responds that, if he did steal, he wouldn’t tell her—but the woman does not like Richard’s humor, and Richard realizes he must appear to be more deferential in order to appease white people—although this deference does not come naturally to him. After a day of doing chores in the house before and after school, Richard realizes that the food the family gives him is stale or rancid. The woman of the house also asks Richard that evening why he wants to be a writer, since the idea is crazy for a black boy from Jackson. Richard leaves quietly that evening, realizing he will not go back to work for that family.
Throughout the memoir, Richard’s relationship to food remains a fraught one. First, as a young boy, he barely has enough to survive, and must fill his gut with mush and water just to simulate a feeling of satiety. Later, Richard begins earning a small amount of money and buying food during school hours. But in these jobs, when white families appear to be offering Richard their leftovers, Richard first finds that he is more or less eating table scraps, expired food, and garbage. Just as the white families treat him as subhuman in terms of the food they give him, the white woman can't even conceive of a black person becoming a writer.
Richard then takes on a job with another white family, doing similar chores, although this family also teaches him how to milk cows and do basic farm work. Richard earns a good deal—for him—of money with this job, and eats the food the family sets out for him in abundance. But Richard is also horrified by the petty and openly mean way in which the white family members talk to one another—they seem to ignore Richard and direct most of their vitriol at each other. Richard uses his proceeds from this job to buy new clothes and lunch during lunchtime, but he is so tired from his long mornings of work that his “studies begin to falter.”
In his job working for this second white family, however, Richard is at least provided a good deal of non-rancid food. Yet the white family’s cruelty is shocking to Richard, as he perhaps assumed that white families, having as they did enough to eat and more than enough money to go around, would be naturally more inclined toward happiness than poor black families. Also note how Richard's poverty forces him to work, which then interferes with the education that might allow him to escape that poverty. The racist South is a kind of trap for black people.
Richard’s mother again begins to recover from her stroke-induced paralysis, and starts going to a Methodist church in Jackson, although Granny does not support this, believing that the Seventh-Day Church is the only true one. Richard’s mother asks Richard to go with her, and he begins to, not out of religious feeling, but because he enjoys meeting the other young men and women in the church. During another long prayer revival, the preacher takes the young men who claim not to believe in God—Richard is in this group—into a room and begs them to accept the church. The preacher then leads the young men back into the main chapel and asks their mothers to come up next to them, to pray for their souls.
Here is another attempt at a conversion to Christianity, this time spurred on by Richard’s mother and her apparently reinvigorated attitude toward the church. Richard’s mother perhaps fears that she is going to die, and wants to know, if this does happen, that her son is safe and right with God. Or perhaps Richard’s mother attributes her continued survival to a divine presence, and wants to be sure that Richard will continue religious observance in order to keep their household safe.
Richard’s mother does so, and begins weeping and praying for Richard, begging him to accept Christ and make her happy. Richard finally agrees to accept the church—again, not out of religious conviction, but simply because he wishes to give his mother some solace. Richard agrees also to be baptized, and though he tells his mother that he “feels nothing” of the holy spirit, she says that this feeling “will come.” Richard goes to church for a while, but begins skipping Sunday School after a number of other young men also fall off in their adherence to the faith.
Richard finally seems to understand that “becoming part of the church” really means placating his mother. Their relationship was difficult when Richard was younger, but now that he is a teenager he understands her suffering and wants, when possible, to ease her pain and make their home-life more bearable. His decision to become a member of the congregation underscores this new agreeableness.
In the summer after seventh grade, Richard's mother again falls ill. To bring in extra money and help around the house, Granny and Addie have Uncle Tom and his family, from the outskirts of Jackson, live in the house. One day, Tom asks Richard if he knows what time it is, and when Richard gives him only an approximate answer, Tom flies into a rage, calling Richard rude and saying that he will give him a “beating Richard should have had a long time ago.” But while Tom goes outside to find a switch, Richard grabs a razor blade from the house and approaches Tom, showing him that if Tom beats him, Richard will slash him with the razors. Tom is horrified by Richard’s violence, and begins speaking to him softly, saying that Richard is “damned.” Richard maintains that Tom has no right to beat him—Tom hardly knows him—and Tom eventually walks away, leaving Richard to go to work at the white family’s home.
Interestingly, and perhaps coincidentally, Uncle Tom shares a name with another famous literary character, from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin—a character not known for his violence and anger, but rather for his Christ-like self-sacrifice and desire always to please others (and the name “Uncle Tom” has since come to refer to a black person who is especially servile and accommodating towards white people). In many ways Richard’s Uncle Tom is the exact opposite of Stowe’s—this Tom is perpetually angry, and he believes even more virulently than does Granny that Richard's independence and refusal to do exactly as told makes him a bad omen, a bringer of bad luck onto the family. Tom sees the switch—violence—as the best way of forcing Richard into what he sees as "proper" behavior.