In Richard Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, Richard’s persistent hunger is the driving force in his struggle through childhood and adolescence. Like many blacks in the Jim Crow South, Richard is often hungry for food; however, what separates Richard from other Southern blacks is that he also hungers for freedom, literature, and identity.
Wherever Richard goes, problems follow, but his strength is that he is always hungry for more in life and never gives up.
Richard’s hunger for freedom is difficult to satisfy because of the racial barriers in the Southern society in which he grows up. When Richard’s father leaves the family, Richard and his brother are sent to live in an orphanage while Richard’s mother looks for a job. The orphanage is poorly run, and Richard is always hungry there and feels trapped. One day, he runs away. When night comes, Richard gets scared and says to himself, “Ought I go back? No; hunger [is] back there, and fear.”(31) The police find Richard and take him back, but soon afterwards his mother takes Richard and his brother to her sister’s house. Living with his aunt does not work out, and after many years of living in many different households, Richard finds a job as a ticket collector at a movie theater. Richard is determined to escape the South, so, although it is risky and does not feel right, he takes part in money-making scams and steals to make enough money to flee. As he sees it, it is “freedom or the chain-gang.”(205) He goes to Memphis and stays with a woman who immediately wants him to marry her daughter, but Richard refuses because he cannot relate to their “peasant mentality” and does not want to be confined to such a simple life.(214)
Richard hungers for literature because it lets him see the world beyond his own surroundings and becomes the only way he can express himself. Even at a young age, Richard begs Ella, a tenant in his grandma’s house, to “[t]ell [him] what [she] is reading,” despite his...