Richard’s inability to identify fully with any of the groups he encounters in this chapter—the black literary group, the Garveyites, or the Communists—is an extension of the problems he experiences with the black community in the South. Throughout his life in the South, Richard struggles with a black culture that tries to reshape him according to what it believes he should be: in Richard’s case, he should be less bookish, more obedient, and more religious. Richard has too strong a sense of self to suffer an identity imposed from without, so he eternally appears out of step with his home community. A similar situation occurs in Richard’s interactions with these new groups in Chicago. In order to join the black literary group, the Garveyites, or the Communists, he must commit himself entirely to sexual obsessions, a nostalgic desire to return to Africa, or an ardent belief that revolution is the only solution. Richard cannot reduce his identity to any one idea, however, and therefore once again finds himself unable to march in step with a group.
The final paragraphs of this chapter create an apocalyptic mood. The apocalyptic writing found in the Bible describes a time of decadence, corruption, and suffering as the necessary precursor to the inauguration of God’s rule on earth—in essence, an expression of the folk proverb “It’s always darkest before dawn.” At the end of this chapter of Black Boy, the new apartment to which Richard moves his family is described as “dismal,” with cracking plaster and sagging stairs. Richard feels “bleak” and worries that he has not “done what I had come to the city to do.” Moreover, when he finally resorts to getting food at the relief station, he feels that he has “come to the end of something.” The image of the drooping, rotting apartment combines with the language of finality and despair to create an apocalyptic mood. In light of the biblical definition and the proverb about dark and dawn, this mood suggests that a significant change in Richard’s life may be imminent.