Richard writes a short story called “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre” and persuades the local black paper to print it. His classmates cannot understand why he has written and published a story simply because he wanted to do so. Richard’s family is likewise unreceptive and hostile—Granny and Addie equate literary fiction with lies, while Ella thinks that Richard’s writing will lead people to think he has a weak mind and thus will not want to hire him. The newspaper editor is literally the only person who encourages him. Wright muses that if he had known then how many obstacles he would eventually have to overcome to become a writer, he would have abandoned his quest.
Summary: Chapter 8
The following summer, Richard looks for a job at the local sawmill, but leaves after one of the workers demonstrates the danger of sawmill work by showing Richard his right hand, which is missing three fingers. One morning Richard learns that whites have killed the brother of one of his black classmates because they thought he was consorting with a white prostitute in a local hotel where he worked. The killing burdens Richard’s consciousness even further with the grim reality and pervasiveness of white oppression.
Richard learns that Uncle Tom thinks his nephew is such a bad influence on his children that he has instructed his children to avoid Richard around the house. This realization makes Richard’s longing for independence stronger than ever. Alan, Richard’s brother, soon visits the family, and much to Richard’s dismay his brother quickly adopts the family’s critical attitude toward him.
Richard is named valedictorian of his class, but he discovers that the principal will not let him give his own speech at the ceremony. Because white people will be present at the graduation, the principal has written a speech of his own, which he instructs Richard to deliver. The principal threatens to keep Richard from graduating if he insists on giving a different speech. Richard’s family, friends, and classmates all urge him to avoid trouble and just deliver the principal’s speech, but he adamantly refuses.
When the day of graduation arrives, Richard gives his own speech and immediately flees the auditorium, paying no attention to the applause, to the handshakes, to the invitations to parties that he receives. He is disgusted with the community, the event, and with the fact that he lived his life for seventeen years in a baffled state. Wright muses that at this point he finally resolved to put this baffled living behind him and “faced the world in 1925.”
Analysis: Chapters 6–8
However sassy Uncle Tom may regard Richard’s comments on the accuracy of the clock to be, the violence of Tom’s reaction far exceeds rational bounds and is difficult to comprehend. We might think that Richard should expect this sort of behavior from adult men, given that he has a history of traumatic relationships with nearly every man in his family. The examples are numerous: Richard’s sullen and prickly grandfather, his uncle Hoskins’s disastrous river-crossing prank, his father’s alarmingly remorseless abandonment of the family, the fear of a dead boy’s ghost that pervades his uncle Clark’s house, and the close association of his pseudo-uncle the “Professor”—with whom Maggie goes north—with the murder of a white person. Adding to this problematic series of male family relationships is the fact that the women in Richard’s life are all either ill or fanatically religious. It is understandable, then, that Richard feels so withdrawn and isolated. In this light, it seems extremely fortunate that his spirit is strong enough to champion such independence and adhere to the standards that guide his actions.