Understanding Richard Wright's Black Boy: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding Richard Wright's Black Boy: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding Richard Wright's Black Boy: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding Richard Wright's Black Boy: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Synopsis

In Black Boy, Richard Wright triumphs over an ugly, racist world by fashioning an inspiring, powerful, beautiful, and fictionalized autobiography. To help students understand and appreciate his story in the cultural, political, racial, social, and literary contexts of its time, this casebook provides a rich source of primary historical documents, collateral readings, and commentary. The selection of unique documents is designed to place in sharp relief the pervasive issue of racism in American society. Documents include excerpts from other autobiographies and a novel, legal documents, speeches, an interview, an anthropological study, magazine and newspaper articles, and contemporary editorials. Most of the documents are available in no other printed form.

Excerpt

Black Boy, Richard Wright's fictionalized autobiography, is a major addition and challenge to the American autobiographical tradition. Numerous attempts to censor it when it was first published in 1945, in the intervening years, and in the 1990s are just one indication of how important it is, whether read in the expurgated 1945 edition or the uncensored 1991 version. (This casebook contextualizes either edition equally well.) Black Boy steps on so many toes, is so powerfully written, and bears the marks of so much racial and social struggle that it is not a book that can be ignored: it is at the center of American experience.

It deals largely with a question that the United States still seems unwilling to face: Why are some Americans, no matter how capable, resourceful, intelligent, and trustworthy, mistreated for no discernible reason other than that their skin is darker than that of some of their fellow citizens? In other words, how should a human being react to being treated as less than human for the most absurd of reasons? Wright makes it clear in Black Boy that societies will go to almost any length to maintain the status quo, regardless of how weak it is in the face of logic and analysis. That this is still true and may remain true indefinitely is just one reason Black Boy endures. It also has sustained its readers' interest because it is such a powerful record of why Richard Wright did not become Bigger Thomas . . .

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