Racism And Oppression In Black American Literature; An Example Of Richard Wright’s Black Boy

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication


It is known fact that racism and oppression are one of the major issues in Black American literature. This study will attempt to make readers realize these themes in Richard Wright’s Black Boy by analyzing the concept of racial segregation of Black in America. We will examine the historical perspective of Black writing narrative and the effects of racism and oppression, which include poverty, hunger assault etc. and the ways through which the blacks reacted to racism. We can claim that Black American literature was written to oppose racism and oppression in all ramifications and also to gain self-pride and identity.

Table of Contents

  • Title page
  • Certification page
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Abstract
  • Table of content

Chapter One:


  • 1.1 Background of Study
  • 1.2 Richard Wright’s Autobiography
  • 1.3 Purpose of Study
  • 1.4 Scope and Limitation
  • 1.5 Justification
  • 1.6 Methodology
  • Endnotes

Chapter Two:

Literature Review

  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 Related Slaves Narratives as Racial and Oppression Evidences
  • 2.3 Black American’s Struggle for Cultural Identity and Self Image
  • 2.4 Wright’s Attitude Towards the White and Black Worlds
  • Endnotes

Chapter Three

Racism and Oppression in Black American Literature; An Example of Richard Wright’s Black Boy

  • 3.1 Poverty and Hunger
  • 3.2 Dehumanization
  • 3.3 Social Insecurity
  • 3.4 Disharmony
  • 3.5 Rejection and Ejection
  • 3.6 Physical and Sexual Assault
  • 3.7 Reaction of the Characters to Racism and Oppression
  • 3.7.1 Radicalism
  • 3.7.2 Intellectualism
  • 3.7.3 Violence
  • 3.7.4 Religious Undertone

Chapter Four:

Summary and Conclusion

  • 4.1 Summary
  • 4.2 Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Racism in literary studies is defined by Wikipedia as the belief the of genetic factors which constitute race, are the primary determinants of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produces an inherent superiority of a particular race. Racism effects are called racial discrimination. Although the term racism usually denotes race based on prejudice, violence, dislike, discrimination or oppression. Racism is also defined simply as a reflection of the economic system and its cultural, ethnic and political ways. The concept of racism is derived from the word race and it is believed that one racial or ethnic group is inferior to another and the unequal treatment is therefore justified.

According to Charles V. Hamilton and Kwame Ture they defined racism as

“A prediction of decision and policies on consideration of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group”.

On the other hand, oppression is defined by the encyclopedia as torture or degrading treatment and the use of threat or violence. It is also the exercise of power/authority in a burden, cruel or unjust manner. Oppression is also defined by Wikipedia as an act or instance of oppressing the state of being oppressed and the feeling of being heavily burdened; mentally or physically by troubles adverse conditions and anxiety.

It is this experience of Black Slaves that Richard Wright tries to capture in BlackBoy (1945). In the text, Wright recalls the plight of the Africans that were sold into slavery between the early 1700’s and 1860’s through the convenience of their own fellow Africans. They were transplanted to American, Canada, the Caribbean Island and other parts of the world. The Africans taken into America were now referred to as “Black Americans” while those on the Caribbean Island are called “Afro Caribbean” but they all have a common roots and common problem- Racial Discrimination. The Africans faced a great ordeal trying to survive hardship on their journey across the Atlantic Ocean on arrival to America; they were conscripted into force labour, maltreated, abused and demoralized on the cotton fields and plantation where they were put to work as slaves.

As a result of this hardship deprivation and degradation, the blacks began expressing themselves through Negro spirituals which marked the beginning of the artistic expressions of the emotion. They told stories of unpleasant experience of slavery and oppression through pamphlet and short stories, which formed the basic of Black writings and which were later referred to as “Slave Narrative” or “secret text” because they were written without the knowledge of the slave owners. This inhuman trade led to the transportation of Africans to American to work as slave on the plantation where they experienced unimaginable oppression from the white owner. Many youth are ignorant of this fact and see American as a peaceful place and a bed of roses.

The project therefore sets out to trace the origin of racism in America and try to expose the horrible experience that the black slaves went through. The experiences of the blacks recounted by Richard Wright in BlackBoy will therefore by analysed to expose the themes of racism and oppression as aspect of the American society.

1.2 Richard Wright’s Autobiography

Richard Wright, the grand son of slaves was born in Natchez Mississippi on 4th of September 1908. His father deserted the family in 1914. When Richard was ten years old, his mother had a paralytic shock. The family was extremely poor. After a brief education, he was forced to seek employment in other to support his mother. He had a difficult childhood which was characterized by hopelessness, insecurity and hunger as portrayed in his autobiography Novel, BlackBoy. Wright worked in a series of menial jobs in Memphis. He wanted to continue his education by using the local library but Jim Crow laws prevented this. Richard Wright solved this by pretending he was collecting a book for a white man.

After passing a civil service exam, Wright find a job as a post office clerk. When the wall street crash and the beginning of depression was over, Wright lost his job for a period. He found employment with the Negro Burial Society but that came to an end in 1931 and he was forced to go on relief after several jobs, the relief office found his work with the Federal Writer Project. This enabled him to publish his story Superstition in the Magazine Abbot’s Monthly.

In 1932, Wright began attending meeting of the literary group at the John Reed Club he meets several Marxist at the club and later in the year, he joined the American Communist Party. His poems, short stories and essays are accepted by various left using journal including the new masses and international literature, his poem Between The World And Me and a short story BigBoy Leaves Home were both based on the lunching of a black man that he had witnessed when he was a child.

In May 1937, Wright moved to New York where he became Harlem editor of the daily worker and a new literary quarterly new challenge. The following year, a collection of short stories about racism in the United States titled Uncle Tom’s Chicken was publish and Wright announced that all royalties would be used to help to pay the appeal cost of Earl Browder, the general secretary of the American Communist Party who had been sentenced to four years in prison for misusing a passport.

The publisher accepted Wright’s novel, Native Son in 1940. The book of the mouth club selected the novel as its March selection, therefore, ensuring large sales and publicity. Over a quarter of a million copies were sold within four weeks, making it the fastest selling large novel in twenty years. Wright’s next book, Twelve million Black Voices (1941) was a sociological study of black migration from the rural south to the urban north. By 1944, Wright left the American Communist Party and published an article in the Atlantic Monthly titled The God that Failed, his short novel, The Man Who Lived Underground appeared in 1944.

Wright’s powerful autobiography and our main concentration in the project, BlackBoy is a record of childhood and youth which was published in 1945. After then, there was a wave of great hostility towards black writers, so Richard Wright fled to Paris. In 1953, Wright published The Outsider and in 1954 Savage Holding was published, when he traveled to Ghana he wrote about his experience in Black power (1954). This was followed by a collection of essays. White listen (1957), The psychological reaction of the oppressed people and the literature of the Negro in the United States.

Wright final novel, The Long Dream was published in 1958. He died of a heart attack in Paris on 28th November 1960. Richard Wright was indeed a true voice of the Black Americans, every bit of his literary works sought to bring an end to physical and psychological oppression and also abolish racism and oppression.

1.3 Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study is to create an awareness of racism and oppression using the personal experience of Richard Wright in his autobiography BlackBoy.

This essay concentrates on the theme of racism and oppression in Black American literature. Our intention is to show that racism and oppression indeed is a prominent theme in BlackBoy especially because the book was written during the Jim Crow era at a point where racism was very prominent in the American society.

It also looks at the personal understanding of the Blackman’s point of view and his situation. Examples of racism and oppression are cited in BlackBoy. This project exposes how racism and oppression affects the mentality and the way of living of the Black race, reducing them to a level of inferiority, in every aspect of their lives.

1.4 Scope and Limitation

Our scope and limitation is on the theme of racism and oppression in BlackBoy by Richard Wright so as to prevent the project from being untidy and ambiguous in nature. From intense research we believe that BlackBoy, an eye witness account is accurate enough to fully express the terms of racial segregation and oppression because it has made a strong impact on American literature with its strong commentary on the cultural, political, racial and social issues going on during the period of 20th century racism.

The very title of the book “BlackBoy” already gives us an idea of our thematic discussion because he uses the term ‘Black’ in the title to emphasize the fundamental racial facts of his life (the author Richard Wright); the black against the white. Black race subordinate to the white race which is the main and only scope and limitation.

1.5 Justification

Many works have been carried out on Black American literature majorly focusing on self identity and racism. For example Babalola (1992) “The concept of racism and crisis of self identity in James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain (1954) and George Lamming’s Water with Berries (1972) focused on aspect of racism. Both novels highlighted the concept of self identity. The present study will be different from the works mentioned above. It will shed more light on oppression experienced by the African’s using Richard Wright’s autobiographical novel {BlackBoy}.

1.6 Methodology

The methodology used in this project is a Carl Jung (1952) psychological approach in literature. It is believed that this approach will best expose the inner mind and psychological torture of the Black American characters in Black Boy. Oppression and Racism are better analysed, examined and portrayed through the workings of the intellectual thinking of those affected. This approach is the only approach that has helped to review visual and close insight of confrontations and conflicts between the Blacks and the Whites. Concentration is placed on the major character which serves as the representative character for the Blacks. Through his life experience, we can deduce the predicament of the Black Americans in South Africa.

Chapter Four

Summary and Conclusion

This chapter discusses the summary and conclusion proffered to the problem of focus in the project.

4.1 Summary

In this study, we have been able to realize that the current ideology of young people that the American society had always been a free one and a place where all the societal groups have had equal right is not true. What is true is that America had been involved in the heinous crime of slave trade where people were taken from countries and brought to America as slaves to work on the plantations.

We have also found out that slave narratives which formed the foundation for black American literature were written to tell the stories of slavery and the crimes of the slave traders. These narratives were told by slaves who had no access to education but whose stories were written down by the few privileged slaves, slaves who were educated by their owners. These narratives gave birth to what we know today as African American Literature.

Wright gives us an insight into racism, the psychological and sociological trauma that the people who live in racist society face. He projects revolution as the only means to freedom and through which people discriminated against can get self identity and recognition in a racist society.

Furthermore, we have realized that Richard, the protagonist in Black Boy portrays the suffering and manipulations of the African by the whites as a result of the colour difference. As a product of racist society, Richard Wright tries to provide solutions to the racial problems he faced. Richard Wright had the spirit of radicalism in him, he preferred to go hungry all day than to accept food from the whites. Also, in the office, he say that white man as his equal and refused to be a puppet like his fellow black friends. Wright’s actions showed that there is no difference between the two opposing groups and that people should not be discriminated against because of their skin colour.

4.2 Conclusion

This essay has dealt with the study of racism and oppression in Richard Wright’s Black Boy. The novel portrays a racist society where racism is a phenomenon the blacks tried to alter. Racism turned them into animals, families were separated, innocent were killed and so many dehumanizing issues.

In conclusion, there is still a tone of hope at the end of everything because the whites effort to oppress them has failed. The blacks never stopped in their protest to be treated as humans, they tried to make their impact felt in the society and at the end of the day, they learned to be self assured no matter the circumstance. The blacks in Diaspora still seek to know their root, which is Africa.

The former American society where no regard is given to the Africans and where their rights were denied has changed to a society where the blacks are no longer dependent on the whites.The greatest solution to racism is equal distribution of rights between the two conflicting worlds, the blacks and the whites. The Africans, although free, still experienced racism in Black Boy, they have denied all the privileges the white has. There should be an equal distribution of resources and wealth, not one group dependent on another. An egalitarian society where there is equal right for both worlds should be created, there should be opportunity to educate the blacks, access to good jobs, accommodation, health facilities and other necessities.

Another conclusion is “love”. According to Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English, 3rd edition, “love is a string feeling of caring about someone”. People of the world should accept one another despite their historical and cultural differences. Love should be the binding force for blacks, whites, Asians or whatever other races. If people can love each other, problems like racism, war, etc. would be solved without resorting to violent means.

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