Black Boy

Summary

Part I: Chapter 2

Summary Part I: Chapter 2

One day, while playing at Granny’s house, Richard sees a regiment of black soldiers training for World War I and, later, a black chain gang working by the roadside guarded by armed white men. In confusion, Richard thinks that the chain gang is a group of elephants, later realizing that the inmates’ striped uniforms had reminded of him of zebras, which he had then confused with elephants. These sights cause Richard to once again ponder the mysterious division of power between white and black people.

Ella quickly tires of Granny’s strict religious routine, so she, the two boys, and Aunt Maggie move out, resettling in West Helena, Arkansas. While Maggie and Ella work, Richard and his brother entertain themselves by playing with other children and taunting the Jewish proprietor of the corner grocery store.

Richard learns that his landlady runs a curious business and resolves to learn more about it. He peeps over the door dividing his apartment from the neighboring one and sees a man and a woman having sex. Startled, Richard falls from his perch, causing the landlady to come over and scold him for scaring away her customers. The landlady then evicts Richard’s family because his mother refuses to beat him as punishment for his nosiness.

Meanwhile, Maggie begins seeing an elegant man known only as Professor Matthews. Professor Matthews is hiding from the police, so he comes to see Maggie only at night and gives Richard and his brother gifts to ensure their silence. Among these gifts is a little female poodle that Richard names Betsy. After Professor Matthew commits a mysterious crime that seems to involve the death of a white woman, he and Maggie hurriedly flee to the North. Richard is sad to see them go because Maggie is his favorite aunt.

Without Maggie’s income, the family once again falls into hard times. One day, Richard is so hungry that he resolves to sell Betsy for a dollar. He goes door-to-door in the white neighborhood and finds a white woman willing to buy the dog. Richard’s mounting fear and hatred of white people, however, make him run home when the woman says that she has only ninety-seven cents on hand to pay for the dog. One week later, a coal wagon hits Betsy and kills her. Richard buries her mournfully, while Ella coldly reminds him that he should have sold Betsy when he had the chance, because a dead dog is useless.

As World War I draws to an end, racial tensions in the South rise. In hopeless confusion and fear, Richard listens to his neighbors’ stories of violent racial conflict. A tale of a black woman’s vengeance upon the white mob that killed her husband particularly impresses Richard, and he resolves to do something similar if he ever faces an angry mob.