Black Boy

by: Richard Wright

Granny, Addie, Tom, Pease, Reynolds, Olin, Ed Green, Buddy Nealson

Characters Granny, Addie, Tom, Pease, Reynolds, Olin, Ed Green, Buddy Nealson

This list of supporting characters—a list that could easily be extended—may seem inconsistent. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons why black family members of Richard’s do not belong in a list with white racists like Pease and Reynolds, and why city-dwelling black Communists like Ed Green and Buddy Nealson do not belong with the other characters either. With respect to Richard, though, all of these characters are part of the same group: they all ascribe to inflexible attitudes and beliefs that do not accommodate differing opinions from independently minded people like Richard.

In the cases of Granny and Addie, strict religious faith drives them to attack Richard at every turn because he fails to act like a good Seventh-Day Adventist. Tom’s belief that young people should unthinkingly obey their elders rouses him to fury whenever Richard takes a justified stand against him. Pease, Reynolds, and Olin believe that black people exist merely for the service and sport of white people, leading them to treat Richard with shocking inhumanity. Finally, Ed Green and Buddy Nealson, who maintain that Communists should quietly march in step with the Party, vilify Richard as soon as he seems to be marching to a different drummer.

In short, these characters all deny Richard’s worth as an individual. The American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Self-Reliance that “[s]ociety everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members,” in that the “base doctrine of the majority of voices usurps the place of the doctrine of the soul.” Taken together, these characters represent the multitude of ways in which society “is in conspiracy against” Richard.