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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Black Boy

1. In one of his first contacts with whites, Wright feels himself tensing up with confusion and suspicion over how to act. Discuss the various forms that tension takes in the course of Black Boy. Does Wright glimpse any relief from this tension?

2. Personal narratives like Zora Neale Hurston's "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," and James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son have been among the most enduring and powerful modes of expression among African-American writers. What is it about the African-American experience that makes so many gifted writers tell their own stories? What influence has Black Boy had on this genre?

3. Wright writes: "I used to mull over the strange absence of real kindness in Negroes, how unstable was our tenderness, how lacking in genuine passion we were, how void of great hope, how timid our joy, how bare our traditions, how hollow our memories, how lacking we were in those intangible sentiments that bind man to man, and how shallow was even our despair." Taken out of context, this reads like a terrible damnation of the African-American soul. How does the meaning of these words change when read in the context of the book - and the context of Wright's own youth? Do you feel the book justifies this criticism of African-Americans - or is this passage a sign of Wright's self-hatred, his lack of sympathy with the essence of black culture?

4. When it was published in 1945, Black Boy was read primarily as an attack on the violence and oppression of the Jim Crow South; during the 1960s, critics began to focus on the sensibility of the narrator - how his experiences shaped him, how he found his voice and satisfied his yearning for expression. Which view of the novel feels most on target to you?

5. Several years before he died, Wright wrote, "I declare unabashedly that I like and even cherish the state of abandonment and seems the natural, inevitable condition of man, and I welcome it..." Discuss this statement in the light of Black Boy.

6. Compare the male and female characters as they are presented in Black Boy. To what extent is Richard rebelling against the powerful role of women in African-American families? Do you think Wright is a misogynist, as some critics have written? Are there any men in the book to whom Richard feels close or to whom he turns for guidance or mentoring?

Black Boy
by Richard Wright

  • Publication Date: September 1, 1998
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
  • ISBN-10: 0060929782
  • ISBN-13: 9780060929787