Black Boy

Richard Wright Character Analysis

The memoir’s protagonist, author, and narrator, Richard Wright is born into poverty in rural Mississippi, then shuttles between Jackson, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Memphis as a young man, and does all he can to educate himself and earn enough money to leave the South and move to Chicago. Wright’s childhood is filled with violence (beatings with the switch, often leveled by his own family), fear of white people’s prejudice, and teenage battles with his mother, his Granny, and various aunts and uncles. Meanwhile, Wright is more moved by stories and literature than his grandmother’s religion, and dedicates himself to getting educated, and begins reading a great number of books, even as he is forced to drop out of high school to help support his family. Wright’s reading and his personal determination enable him to move to Chicago at the end of the memoir, and to begin a new life under less aggressive racial prejudice and domination.

Richard Wright Quotes in Black Boy

The Black Boy quotes below are all either spoken by Richard Wright or refer to Richard Wright. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of Black Boy published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

There was the cloudy notion of hunger when I breathed the odor of new-cut, bleeding grass. And there was the quiet terror that suffused my senses when vast hazes of gold washed earthward from star-heavy skies on silent nights . . .

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

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You owe a debt you can never pay.
I’m sorry.
Being sorry can’t make that kitten live again.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Wright’s mother (speaker)
Related Symbols: The “switch”
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

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I was a drunkard in my sixth year, before I had begun school. With a gang of children, I roamed the streets, begging pennies from passers-by, haunting the doors of saloons . . . .

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

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. . . My father was a black peasant who had gone to the city seeking life, but who had failed in the city; a black peasant whose life had been hopelessly snarled in the city, and who had at last fled the city—that same city which had . . . borne me toward alien and undreamed-of shores of knowing.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

The next day Granny said emphatically that she knew who had ruined me, that she knew I had learned about “foul practices” from reading Ella’s books, and when I asked what “foul practices” were, my mother beat me afresh.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Granny, Ella
Related Symbols: The “switch”
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

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Mama, is Granny white?
If you’ve got eyes, you can see what color she is.
I mean, do the white folks think she’s white?
Why don’t you ask the white folks that?
But you know.
Why should I know? I’m not white.
Granny looks white. Then why is she living with us colored folks?
Don’t you want Granny to live with us?

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Wright’s mother (speaker), Granny
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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There was no funeral. There was no music. There was no period of mourning. There were no flowers. There were only silence, quiet weeping, whispers, and fear.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Uncle Hoskins
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

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Why are there so many black men wearing stripes?
It’s because . . . Well, they’re harder on black people.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Wright’s mother (speaker)
Related Symbols: The “switch”
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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For weeks I wondered what it was that “uncle” had done, but I was destined never to know, not even in all the years that followed.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), “Uncle” Matthews
Related Symbols: The “switch”
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

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Christmas came and I had but one orange. I was hurt and would not go out to play with the neighborhood children who were blowing horns and shooting firecrackers. . . . Just before going to bed, I ate it, first taking a bite out of the top and sucking the juice from it as I squeezed it; finally I tore the peeling into bits and munched them slowly.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

Out of the family conferences it was decided that my brother and I would be separated, that it was too much of a burden for any one aunt or uncle to assume the support of both of us. Where was I to go? Who would take me?

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Wright’s brother
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

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All right, I’ll send you home Saturday. Tell me, where did you learn those words Jody heard you say?
I looked at him and did not answer . . . . How could I have told him that I had learned to curse before I had learned to read? How could I have told him that I had been a drunkard at the age of six?

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Uncle Clark (speaker), Aunt Jody
Related Symbols: The “switch”
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

You’re just mad at me for something!
Don’t tell me I’m mad!
You’re too mad to believe anything I say.
Don’t speak to me like that!
Then how can I talk to you? You beat me for throwing walnuts on the floor! But I didn’t do it!

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Aunt Addie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The “switch”
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

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Daily I went into my room upstairs, locked the door, knelt, and tried to pray, but everything I could think of saying seemed silly.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

I burned at my studies. At the beginning of the school term I read my civics and English and geography volumes through and only referred to them when in class. I solved all my mathematical problems far in advance; then, during school hours, . . . I read tattered, second-hand copies of Flynn’s Detective Weekly or the Argosy All-Story Magazine.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Related Symbols: Books and Novels
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

What grade are you in school?
Seventh, ma’am.
Then why are you going to school?
Well, I want to be a writer.
A what?
A writer.
For what?

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Related Symbols: Books and Novels
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

Son, you ought to be more serious. You’re growing up now and you won’t be able to get jobs if you let people think that you’re weak-minded. Suppose the superintendent of schools would ask you to teach here in Jackson, and he found out that you had been writing stories?

Related Characters: Wright’s mother (speaker), Richard Wright
Related Symbols: Books and Novels
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Chapter 8 Quotes

Look, Dick, you’re throwing away your future here in Jackson. Go to the principal, talk to him, take his speech and say it. I’m saying the one he wrote. So why can’t you? What the hell? What can you lose?
No.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Griggs (speaker), The principal
Related Symbols: Books and Novels
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

I reached my hands higher. They searched my pockets and packages. They seemed dissatisfied when they could find nothing incriminating.
Boy, tell your boss not to send you out in white neighborhoods at this time of night.
Yes, sir.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

The words and actions of white people were baffling signs to me. I was living in a culture and not a civilization and I could learn how that culture worked only by living with it. Misreading the reactions of whites around me made me say and do the wrong things.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Chapter 11 Quotes

Where might you be from?
Jackson, Mississippi.
You act mighty bright to be from there.
There are bright people in Jackson.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker), Mrs. Moss (speaker)
Related Symbols: Books and Novels
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Chapter 13 Quotes

I wondered what on earth this Mencken had done to call down upon him the scorn of the South. The only people I had ever heard denounced in the South were Negros, and this man was not a Negro. . . Undoubtedly he must be advocating ideas that the South did not like.

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Related Symbols: Books and Novels
Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

Yet, deep down, I knew that I could never really leave the South, for my feelings had already been formed by the South, for there had been slowly instilled into my personality and consciousness, black though I was, the culture of the South. So, in leaving, I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, and bend in strange winds . . . .

Related Characters: Richard Wright (speaker)
Related Symbols: Books and Novels
Page Number: 284-285
Explanation and Analysis:

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Richard Wright Character Timeline in Black Boy

The timeline below shows where the character Richard Wright appears in Black Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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The memoir begins as a four-year-old boy, named Richard Wright—the book’s author and narrator—and his unnamed brother sit quietly in their house in Mississippi.... (full context)
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Richard hears screams in the house, and continues to hide, hoping his family won’t realize he... (full context)
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Richard the narrator then recounts a number of different memories and sensory experiences from his childhood,... (full context)
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Richard recounts a story, in which he and his brother, playing with a cat, wake his... (full context)
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Richard’s brother is horrified by Richard’s actions, and Richard’s mother chastises him, saying that it was... (full context)
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Richard reports that he begins feeling hungry, that there is no food in the house. At... (full context)
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His mother begins sending Richard out to buy groceries, and a pack of young boys in the neighborhood continually beat... (full context)
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Richard’s mother begins working as a cook for a white family, and Richard—who is forced to... (full context)
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One day, Richard’s mother orders coal for the house and tells Richard to wait for the delivery man... (full context)
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At this age—around six—Richard also learns of the hatred between “white” and “black” people from his mother. Richard is... (full context)
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Richard’s mother scrapes together money to send Richard to school—she must buy him a uniform so... (full context)
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Richard’s mother becomes more observantly religious after his father leaves, and she invites the preacher from... (full context)
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Richard goes to court, with his brother and mother, as his mother attempts to argue before... (full context)
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At the orphanage, Richard continues to be hungry—they are mostly fed a kind of gruel—and the boys spend their... (full context)
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Later that day, Richard decides to leave the orphanage, and he runs away into the streets of Memphis, where... (full context)
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His mother agrees to take Richard out of the orphanage if he will go to his father and ask for money... (full context)
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Wright then closes the chapter with a vision of his father 25 years later, when he... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Richard’s mother comes back to Richard—who has not yet left the orphanage, since his mother still... (full context)
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Richard’s mother and the two boys stop in Jackson to see Granny, who lives in a... (full context)
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Richard’s mother falls ill again and remains in her bed. One night, when Granny is bathing... (full context)
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In another brief section, Richard recounts the natural beauties of Jackson, and some of the more peaceful moments he and... (full context)
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Richard asks if he is black, and his mother says that society will view him as... (full context)
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Richard, his brother, and his mother move in with his Aunt Maggie—his mother’s sister—and her husband,... (full context)
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Hoskins owns a bar in Elaine, and though Richard takes to him and wants to visit him at work, his mother and Maggie tell... (full context)
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...business—and although Maggie wishes to go down to the bar to find out what happened, Richard’s mother urges her to stay home. Because Hoskins was killed extra-legally, and because the white... (full context)
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There, in Jackson, Richard observes two different groups of men walking by when he is playing in the fields:... (full context)
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But after some time, Richard’s mother decides that Granny’s strict religious rules in the house are too much to bear,... (full context)
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Richard discovers that, on Saturdays, a great many man enter the house next-door to his own.... (full context)
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One night, Matthews enters the house in a hurry, and tells Maggie and Richard’s mother, with Richard overhearing from his bedroom that he (Matthews) has set fire to a... (full context)
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...Aunt Maggie is no longer living with them and bringing home her income from cooking. Richard goes from door-to-door in the white neighborhood of town, a few days later, to try... (full context)
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Richard notes that, at about this age (eight years old, or thereabouts), he began to live... (full context)
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Richard’s mother finds a new job as an assistant to a white doctor, and her wages... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Richard discusses how, as he got older (around ten years old), he began hanging around with... (full context)
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Richard also gets into small fights with the neighborhood’s white gang—the black and white gangs fight... (full context)
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One day, Richard’s brother calls him in to his mother’s bedroom, and the two boys discover that their... (full context)
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Granny dictates letters to Richard, to be sent to other family members, asking for money, and Granny arranges for the... (full context)
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After several days, an uncle (Richard does not specify which) calls both boys into a room filled with family, and says... (full context)
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Uncle Clark takes Richard by train down to Greenwood, where he meets Aunt Jody, who will help to care... (full context)
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Richard can barely sleep for days afterward, and begs to sleep on the couch in the... (full context)
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After returning to be with his mother, Richard realizes that her series of operations and treatments will leave her mostly sick for the... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Richard recognizes that, as he is now an “uninvited dependent” in Granny’s home—since his mother is... (full context)
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Granny and Addie both feel that Richard is an ingrate, because he refuses to accept the teachings of their church, and is... (full context)
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Later that day, Richard and Addie return to Granny’s home, and Addie begins yelling at Richard, again, for not... (full context)
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Richard continues going to school in Addie’s classroom, though she no longer calls on him, and... (full context)
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Granny prepares to make one final effort to convince Richard to become a full-fledged member of the Seventh-Day Church. Richard’s extended family arranges for a... (full context)
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Granny, then, “mounts one final attempt” to bring Richard to the church. She takes him to a revival, or long worship ceremony, at which... (full context)
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But Granny soon believes Richard’s apology, and asks him to continue praying in his room for forgiveness. Richard tries but... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Granny and Addie give up on converting Richard to Christianity, and Richard settles into an uneasy truce with them, as his mother recovers... (full context)
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Granny and Addie will not give Richard money for “earthly books,” meaning anything that is not the Bible, and they continue to... (full context)
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Richard finds a young boy in his sixth-grade class who is selling newspapers with a “magazine... (full context)
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Richard is appalled, and vows to the man never to sell the papers again; his friend,... (full context)
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One summer day, Richard is sitting on the porch steps with Granny, Addie, and mother—Granny and Addie are arguing... (full context)
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Addie goes inside, where Richard has run to his room out of fear, and yells at Richard, saying that he... (full context)
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Richard finally finds a job that summer, working as a secretary for an insurance salesman named... (full context)
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Richard comes to the kitchen table one day that fall, and learns that Grandpa is very... (full context)
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Richard goes upstairs to say “goodbye” to his grandfather, but when he asks Granny about the... (full context)
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Granny does not allow Richard to attend Grandpa’s funeral, but Richard does not mind overmuch, and he notes that life... (full context)
Chapter 6
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In the seventh grade, Richard again searches for employment, in order to make enough money to buy food for himself,... (full context)
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Richard then takes on a job with another white family, doing similar chores, although this family... (full context)
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Richard’s mother again begins to recover from her stroke-induced paralysis, and begins going to a Methodist... (full context)
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Richard’s mother does so, and begins weeping and praying for Richard, begging him to accept Christ... (full context)
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In the summer after seventh grade Richard's mother again falls ill. To bring in extra money and help around the house, Granny... (full context)
Chapter 7
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The summer of 1923 continues, and Richard looks again for better-paying work to enable him to eat and buy books. He gets... (full context)
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One afternoon that fall, Richard writes a story about a man who attempts to steal an old widow’s home, and... (full context)
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Richard is now fifteen years old, and the small success of “Voodoo” stokes his dream of... (full context)
Chapter 8
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The summer after eighth grade arrives (summer 1924), and Richard must once again look for full-time work. He works for a woman named Mrs. Bibbs,... (full context)
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Richard discovers that his Uncle Tom has been keeping all his children away from Richard, since... (full context)
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Richard does well in school, regardless, and is named valedictorian of his ninth-grade class. He also... (full context)
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But Richard continues, stubbornly, to want to read his own speech, even after Tom tells him (after... (full context)
Chapter 9
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It is 1925, and Richard is 17, looking for full-time employment year-round. He takes a position as an assistant at... (full context)
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Another evening when is making deliveries on his bike Richard is pulled over by a white cop—the cop tells Richard to tell his boss not... (full context)
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Richard tries to hold down a series of similar jobs, working for whites in Jackson, but... (full context)
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Griggs tells Richard, after several more days have passed, that he has arranged the job with Crane, and... (full context)
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Although Crane tells Richard that he will learn about optometry from the white employees, Pease and Reynolds do not... (full context)
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Richard meets with Griggs later that day, who says Richard got a “tough break,” and Richard... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Richard realizes that, in order to save up enough money to leave Jackson, he must pretend... (full context)
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At this point, it is the fall of 1925, and Richard does not go back to school for tenth grade. He takes a job as a... (full context)
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Richard also learns that many of his black coworkers, along with black men like Griggs, who... (full context)
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Richard considers his options and is promoted to bell boy at the hotel; he often goes... (full context)
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Richard begins working and, one afternoon, is called to by a man who knows another female... (full context)
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Richard then steals the gun located in his neighbor’s (empty) house, and gathers two friends to... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Richard arrives in Memphis and immediately heads to Beale Street, an area of the city, he... (full context)
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Richard has dinner with Bess and Mrs. Moss that evening, and Mrs. Moss embarrasses her daughter... (full context)
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Richard goes out before bed that night and finds a job as a dishwasher for twelve... (full context)
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The next morning, Richard eats beans out of a can with his fingers and slips out of the house,... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Richard walks around the city of Memphis that Monday morning, after the run-in with the bootleggers,... (full context)
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Richard tells Mrs. Moss that he has taken a better job at the optician’s, and she... (full context)
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Richard also learns about the ways of Memphis African American men and women in appeasing the... (full context)
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Richard becomes friends with Shorty and other African American men who work in the building in... (full context)
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Another day, Richard is approached by Olin, a white foreman in the optician’s shop, who tells Richard that... (full context)
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Then, a week later, Olin and a few other white men from the shop ask Richard if he would fight Harrison with gloves, while other white men stood around watching and... (full context)
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The fight is held on a Saturday, and Richard and Harrison are surrounded by agitated and boisterous white men, who begin shouting at each... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Richard finds, in a Memphis newspaper one day, an article railing against the writings of H.... (full context)
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Richard shows “Falk’s” note to the librarian at the Memphis library, and she agrees to lend... (full context)
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Richard begins staying up most nights reading. He checks out more books from the library, using... (full context)
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Richard’s brother, who has been living in Jackson with their mother, comes up to Memphis with... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Aunt Maggie also moves to Memphis, as she is looking for work. Maggie, Richard's mother and brother, and Richard all decide simply to leave for Chicago as soon as... (full context)
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Richard states that he and his family left the next day, and that the reading he... (full context)
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But Richard also concludes that his upbringing in the south, and the hardships it provided on a... (full context)