narrator, and protagonist of Black Boy.
is an unpredictable bundle of contradictions: he is timid yet assured,
tough yet compassionate, enormously intelligent yet ultimately modest.
Passive-aggressive as a young boy, Richard either says very little or
becomes melodramatic and says too much. Growing up in an abusive
family environment in the racially segregated and violent American
South, Richard finds his salvation in reading, writing, and thinking.
He grows up feeling insecure about his inability to meet anyone’s
expectations, particularly his family’s wish that he accept religion.
Even though he remains isolated from his environment and peers,
at the autobiography’s end Richard has come to accept himself. Black
testifies to his gifted observational powers and his
ability to reflect upon the psychological struggles facing black
in-depth analysis of Richard Wright.
mother. Tough on Richard and certainly unafraid to administer a
beating when she believes it is appropriate, Ella nevertheless loves
her son and is the person most resembling an advocate in his life.
Despite falling into ill health and becoming partially paralyzed, she
maintains an optimistic outlook on life.
in-depth analysis of Ella Wright.
maternal grandmother. Austere and unforgiving, Granny is a very
strict Seventh-Day Adventist and runs her household accordingly.
She thinks Richard is sinful, has little tolerance for his antics,
and is inclined to demonstrate her disapproval with a quick backhanded
slap across his mouth. Like her husband, Richard Wilson, Granny
is the child of slaves. Due to her partially white ancestry, she
looks somewhat white.
in-depth analysis of Granny.
younger brother. Born Leon Alan Wright, he goes by the name Alan.
Alan does not contribute much to the story of Black Boy
a few times, he limply objects to something naughty that Richard
is planning to do, like burn straws in a fireplace or hang a kitten.
In this sense, he serves as one of Richard’s critics.
of Ella’s sisters. Addie lives at home with Granny in Jackson, Mississippi.
She shares her mother’s spite for Richard and tries not to miss
any opportunity to beat or humiliate him. She shares Granny’s intense religious
nature and teaches at a religious school that Richard briefly attends.
maternal grandfather and a former soldier in the Union Army during
the Civil War. Sour and remote, Grandpa is forever bitter that a
clerical error has deprived him of his war pension. He keeps his
distance from the family but is occasionally trotted out to discipline
Richard. Grandpa keeps a loaded gun by his bed, as he believes that
Civil War hostilities could resurface at any moment.
father. Although Nathan is physically intimidating and frequently
beats Richard, he abandons the family and proves to be simple, weak, and
sister. Maggie sporadically lives with Ella, Richard, and his brother,
and is Richard’s favorite aunt.
first husband. Uncle Hoskins is a friendly man, but loses Richard’s
trust when he pretends to drive his buggy into the river to frighten Richard.
Local whites murder Hoskins when they grow jealous of his profitable
- Maggie’s second husband. The “Professor” is an outlaw
and, when he begins courting Maggie, he visits only at night. After
he apparently kills a white woman, he and Maggie flee to Detroit.
Several years after that, he deserts Maggie.
of Ella’s brothers. Uncle Clark briefly houses Richard after his
mother becomes ill. Clark is a just, upright man who seems genuinely
concerned for Richard’s welfare, although perhaps a little strict.
of Ella’s brothers. Like Aunt Addie, Uncle Tom finds Richard particularly
galling and seems to leap at any opportunity to beat or ridicule
Ella, the schoolteacher
- A young schoolteacher who briefly rents a room in
Granny’s house. Bookish and dreamy, she introduces Richard to the
imaginative pleasures of fiction by telling him the story of Bluebeard
and His Seven Wives.
Granny, however, views Ella’s stories
as sinful and effectively forces Ella to move out.
of Richard’s boyhood friends. Griggs, like Richard, is intelligent,
but he has a sense of when blacks need to abide by the rules—a sense
Richard lacks. Griggs displays the compassionate concern of a true
friend when he advises Richard on how to survive in the racist white
Pease and Reynolds
- Two white Southerners who run Richard off his job
at the optical shop in Jackson, Mississippi. Though technically
two characters, Pease and Reynolds are unified in their bestial
treatment of Richard and essentially operate as one.
white Northerner who runs the optical shop where Richard works.
Mr. Crane is a fair and unprejudiced man, who is sad to see Richard
go when Pease and Reynolds run him off the job.
white Southerner at Richard’s job at the optical shop in Memphis,
Tennessee. Racist and destructive, Olin pretends to be Richard’s
friend but then tells lies in an attempt to get Richard and Harrison
to kill each other.
in-depth analysis of Olin.
young black man who works at a rival optical shop in Memphis. The
fight between Richard and Harrison demonstrates that racism’s power
to instill fear in blacks is so great that it can lead two black
men who truly like each other to fight each other viciously.
Jewish shopkeepers who employ Richard in Chicago. The Hoffmans treat
Richard with genuine respect and care, but Richard assumes that
because they are white they will act just like most Southern whites.
The Hoffmans help Richard begin his journey toward accepting some
well-meaning white people, even though he treats them poorly at
black elevator man in the building in Memphis where Richard works.
Shorty is witty, intelligent, and has a sense of pride in his race.
However, much to Richard’s horror, Shorty engages in supremely demeaning
behavior to earn money.
white Irish Catholic worker at the optical shop in Memphis. In stark
counterpoint to Olin, Falk does not explicitly profess to be Richard’s
friend, but he proves to be a genuine friend by letting Richard
borrow his library card to obtain books from the whites-only library.
When Falk learns that Richard is moving to Chicago, the quick smile
he flashes suggests that he is pleased Richard is moving on to a
escapee from a mental institution who suddenly appears at a meeting
of the John Reed Club, a revolutionary artists’ organization Richard
joins in Chicago. Comrade Young illustrates the vulnerability of
the Communist Party to fraudulent acts by individuals.
black Communist whom Richard wishes to profile for his series of
biographical sketches. Ross is somewhat uneasy around Richard, fearing
Richard’s deviations from Party doctrine.
high-ranking black Communist suspicious of Richard’s interviews
with Ross. Green’s
rough, peremptory, and authoritative manner alienates Richard.
in-depth analysis of Ed Green.