Black Boy

by: Richard Wright

Important Quotations Explained

1
At the age of twelve, before I had had one full year of formal schooling, I had . . . a conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering. At the age of twelve I had an attitude toward life that was to . . . make me skeptical of everything while seeking everything, tolerant of all and yet critical . . . that could only keep alive in me that enthralling sense of wonder and awe in the face of the drama of human feeling which is hidden by the external drama of life.

These passages follow Ella’s second paralytic stroke at the end of Chapter 3. Wright illustrates many of his major ideas and beliefs here. Principal among these is his all-important conviction that life becomes meaningful only when we struggle to make it so. This perspective gives no intrinsic significance to life, but asserts that we can be noble when we try to make life significant in our own way. This point of view recalls the thinking of existentialist philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, whom Wright later read and admired. In this passage Wright also emphasizes the paradoxical nature of his character: he is tolerant yet critical, skeptical yet seeking, timid yet headstrong, and modest yet blindingly intelligent.