Black Boy

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 and racial identity. It describes 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 black families live. Black Boy shows in brutal detail the consequences of Southern…

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A defining feature of the memoir is its shifting setting. Richard Wright’s young life is one of movement and dislocation, both physical and psychological. Wright is born in Mississippi, and Jackson, the capital, is a “home-like” place during his youth. But after his father’s departure and his mother’s stroke, Wright moves back and forth between relatives in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Memphis. This movement prevents him from feeling truly at home in a…

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Black Boy details Wright’s physical discomfort and privation in both the South and in the North. Many characters in the memoir also suffer, because African-American families in the white-dominated US often cannot access proper food, medicine, and other necessities.

Wright is hungry for much of the memoir. Early on, Wright’s father refuses to pay alimony. Wright and his brother must live on their mother’s meager salary, earned cooking for white families. Although Wright’s…

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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 place their faith, and hope for salvation, in the Christian church. But Wright is not able to believe in God. His struggles against religious authority contribute to his desire to leave the South. Communism in Chicago then fills some of the void Christianity creates in Wright’s life—but only temporarily.

Wright’s mother

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Black Boy is also a memoir of one man’s personal education. Wright has a love affair with reading and writing, and these intellectual activities open him up to the wider world.

Wright is most satisfied when he reads the great ideas of the world and writes his own stories. He drafts a few “sketches” as a child, one of which is serialized in an African-American newspaper in Mississippi. Granny and Aunt Addie believe it is…

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Black Boy describes a man charting his own path. The world Wright finds himself in is harsh. In the South, he struggles against white oppression, black expectations for “normal” behavior, and feelings of rootlessness. He wants to escape to the North—but in Chicago, these problems don’t disappear. There, he struggles with the big, anonymous city. He looks for unity and human connection, but is often frustrated in this search.

In Wright’s experience, Southern whites group…

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