Books symbolize a great deal of the memoir’s most important ideas. Books provide an imaginative escape for Richard, whose life is lived in grinding poverty and amid terrible racial suppression and violence. They allow Richard to develop as an individual, and provide windows onto different parts of the world, places Richard can only dream of visiting one day, after he has left the South. They are hard for Richard to obtain (Ella, for example, lends him some, and Falk allows Richard to use his library card), but once Richard has them, their ideas can never be taken away. Thus books offer a respite from the difficulties of Richard’s life. They are also a means of escaping that life, of attempting to set up a new and better home in Chicago. Finally, it is Richard’s education in literature that allows him to write Black Boy itself. The memoir describes Richard’s young life and Southern upbringing as forming his intellectual path, and included in the book are the events, and texts, that have shaped him. By the memoir’s end, Richard is writing his own material—he is contributing to the “conversation” between books that has captured his attention since childhood.
Books and Novels Quotes in Black Boy
What grade are you in school?
Then why are you going to school?
Well, I want to be a writer.
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?
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 . . . .
My purpose was to capture a physical state or movement that carried a strong subjective impression, an accomplishment which seemed supremely worth struggling for. If I could fasten the mind of the reader upon words so firmly that he would forget words and be conscious only of his response, I felt that I would be in sight of knowing how to write narrative.
Stalin’s book had showed how diverse minorities could be welded into unity, and I regarded it as a most politically sensitive volume that revealed a new way of looking upon lost and beaten peoples. Of all the developments in the Soviet Union, the method by which scores of backward peoples had been led to unity on a national scale was what had enthralled me.