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Black Boy

Richard Wright


Part I: Chapter 5

page 1 of 3

Part I: Chapter 5

Part I: Chapter 5

Part I: Chapter 5

Part I: Chapter 5


Granny and Addie decide that Richard is lost to the world and finally give up the effort to save his soul. This means that the two women grow cold and hostile toward him, but it also means that he can leave Addie’s religious school for a public school. Granny refuses to pay for Richard’s public school textbooks because she considers them worldly.

On the first day of school, Richard fights two boys simultaneously after one of them knocks his straw hat off his head. As usual, he proves himself and gains acceptance through fighting. Within two weeks, Richard advances from the fifth grade to the sixth. Richard is unable to find a job that does not require him to work on Saturday, a day Granny refuses to allow him to work for religious reasons. Richard’s lack of income prevents him from participating in the social life of his classmates, which revolves around buying snacks at the corner store. He hides his poverty from his peers, all the while yearning to be a part of their group, wanting to eat with them and to get to know them intimately.

A classmate tells Richard that he sells newspapers to make money and suggests that Richard do the same. The classmate has never read the Chicago-printed paper itself, but he likes the stories in the magazine supplement that comes with it. Richard orders a batch of the papers and becomes entranced by the stories his friend has told him about. He makes some money selling these papers for a while, as Granny has permitted him the job because it does not require him to sell on Saturdays.

One day, one of Richard’s black customers takes him aside and asks him if he really is aware of what he is selling. He shows Richard that the paper, which Richard still has never read, is filled with propaganda from the Ku Klux Klan, the vicious white supremacist group. Richard is shocked, knowing that the paper is printed in Chicago, a place, he has heard, where blacks are supposedly equal to whites. Richard immediately stops selling the paper. When the father of Richard’s classmate discovers the content of the paper, he forbids his son to sell it as well. Out of mutual shame, Richard and his classmate never discuss why they stopped selling the paper. Without money from his job, Richard goes hungry yet again.

One day, while Addie and Granny endlessly debate details of religious doctrine, Richard makes an offhand comment that the women deem blasphemous. Granny vigorously lunges to slap Richard, but he ducks the blow, and Granny loses her balance, falling off the porch and injuring her back. Later, Richard wants to ask how Granny is doing, but he cannot let his guard down in front of Addie. Addie confronts him in the hallway and tries to beat him. Once again, Richard fends off the blows, crying hysterically and brandishing a knife from the kitchen. Addie vows that she will give him his due beating one night. Consequently, Richard sleeps with a knife under his pillow for the next month. Wright makes the observation that these constant religious disputes made his family’s household even more quarrelsome and violent than the household of a gangster or burglar.

Richard then takes a job writing for Brother Mance, an illiterate insurance salesman who lives next door. The job entails journeys to plantations, which prove to be eye-opening experiences for Richard, who is alarmed to see the universal poverty, isolation, and ignorance of Southern black sharecroppers. Richard notes the consistently shy nature of the sharecroppers’ children; compared to them, he feels like a civilized man from the big city.

Test Your Understanding with the Part I: Chapter 5 Quiz

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Test Your Understanding with the Part I: Chapter 5 Quiz



At the public school, how long does it take Richard to advance from the fifth to the sixth grade?
Two weeks
Three months
Test Your Understanding with the Part I: Chapter 5 Quiz

Part I: Chapter 5 QUIZ

Test Your Understanding with the Part I: Chapter 5 Quiz

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