Black Boy (Folio) (French Edition)

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Press: Gallimard Education (June 1, 1974)
Author Name:Wright, Richard


At four years of age, Richard Wright set fire to his home; at five his father deserted the family; by six Richard was - temporarily - an alcoholic. 
Moved from home to home, from brick tenement to orphanage, he had had, by the age of twelve, only one year's formal education.
It was in saloons, railroad yards and streets that he learned the facts about life under white subjection, about fear, hunger and hatred.
Gradually he learned to play Jim Crow in order to survive in a world of white hostility, secretly satisfying his craving for books and knowledge until the time came when he could follow his dream of justice and opportunity in the north.

About the Author

Richard Wright won international renown for his powerful and visceral depiction of the black experience. 
He stands today alongside such African-American luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and two of his novels, Native Son and Black Boy, are required reading in high schools and colleges across the nation.
He died in 1960.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

One winter morning in the long-ago, four-year-old days of my life I found myself standing before a fireplace, warming my hands over a mound of glowing coals, listening to the wind whistle past the house outside. 
All morning my mother had been scolding me, telling me to keep still, warning me that I must make no noise.
And I was angry, fretful, and impatient.
In the next room Granny lay ill and under the day and night care of a doctor and I knew that I would be punished if I did not obey.
I crossed restlessly to the window and pushed back the long fluffy white curtains--which I had been forbidden to touch-and looked yearningly out into the empty street.
I was dreaming of running and playing and shouting, but the vivid image of Granny's old, white, wrinkled, grim face, framed by a halo of tumbling black hair, lying upon a huge feather pillow, made me afraid.
The house was quiet.
Behind me my brother--a year younger than I--was playing placidly upon the floor with a toy.
A bird wheeled past the window and I greeted it with a glad shout.
"You better hush," my brother said.
"You shut up," I said.
My mother stepped briskly into the room and closed the door behind her.
She came to me and shook her finger in my face.
"You stop that yelling, you hear?" she whispered.
"You know Granny's sick and you better keep quiet!" I hung my head and sulked.
She left and I ached with boredom.
"I told you so," my brother gloated.
"You shut up," I told him again.
I wandered listlessly about the room, trying to think of something to do, dreading the return of my mother, resentful of being neglected.
The room held nothing of interest except the fire and finally I stood before the shimmering embers, fascinated by the quivering coals.
An idea of a new kind of game grew and took root in my mind.
Why not throw something into the fire and watch it burn? I looked about.
There was only my picture book and MY mother would beat me if I burned that.
Then what? I hunted around until I saw the broom leaning in a closet.
That's it ...
Who would bother about a few straws if I burned them? I pulled out the broom and tore out a batch of straws and tossed them into the fire and watched them smoke, turn black, blaze, and finally become white wisps of ghosts that vanished.
Burning straws was a teasing kind of fun and I took more of them from the broom and cast them into the fire.
My brother came to my side, his eyes drawn by the blazing straws.
"Don't do that," he said.
"How come?" I asked.
"You'll burn the whole broom," he said.
"You hush," I said.
"I'll tell," he said.
"And I'll hit you," I said.
My idea was growing, blooming.
Now I was wondering just how the long fluffy white curtains would look if I lit a bunch of straws and held it under them.
Would I try it? Sure.
I pulled several straws from the broom and held them to the fire until they blazed; I rushed to the window and brought the flame in touch with the hems of the curtains.
My brother shook his head.
"Naw," he said.
He spoke too late.
Red circles were eating into the white cloth: then a flare of flames shot out.
Startled, I backed away.
The fire soared to the ceiling and I trembled with fright.
Soon a sheet of saw her taut face peering under the edge of the house.
She had found me! I held my breath and waited to hear her command me to come to her.
Her face went away; no, she had not seen me huddled in the dark nook of the chimney.
I tucked my head into my arms and my teeth chattered.
"Richard!" The distress I sensed in her voice was as sharp and painful as the lash of a whip on my flesh.
"Richard! The house is on fire.
Oh, find my child!" Yes, the house was afire, but I was determined not to leave my place of safety.
Finally I saw another face peering under the edge of the house; it was my father's.
His eyes must have become accustomed to the shadows, for he was now pointing at me.
"There he is!" "Naw!" I screamed.
"Come here, boy!" "Naw!" "The house is on fire!" "Leave me 'lone!" He crawled to me and caught hold of one of my legs.
I hugged the edge of the brick chimney with all of my strength.
My father yanked my leg and I clawed at the chimney harder.
"Come outta there, you little fool!" "Turn me loose!" I could not withstand the tugging at my leg and my fingers relaxed.
It was over.
I would be beaten.
I did not care any more.
I knew what was coming.
He dragged me into the back yard and the instant his hand left me I jumped to my feet and broke into a wild run, trying to elude the people who surrounded me, heading for the street.
I was caught before I had gone ten paces.
From that moment on things became tangled for me.
Out of the weeping and the shouting and the wild talk, I learned that no one had died in the fire.
My brother, it seemed, had finally overcome enough of his panic to warn my mother, but not before more than half the house had been destroyed.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Comment List (Total:13)

  •     Very interesting
  •     In reading Richard Wright’s Black Boy, the autobiographical novel of the childhood and youth of the prominent Afro-American author of the first half of the last century, I was struck by the America that was depicted. It is not the American I am so fond of, the America that prides itself in being the land of freedom, hope and opportunity for all; on the contrary, it is an America where racism, discrimination and gross injustice abound, even a century after the end of slavery. I’ve always had some notion of how difficult it would’ve been for blacks to live in a world of segregation and constant humiliation, but Wright’s book made it all come to life in a much more disturbing way. It made me reflect on the psychological damage American society effected on “Negros” from the day they were born: not only poverty, lack of opportunity, indecent living conditions… but sheer helplessness and lack of dignity. Wright makes it clear that blacks were regarded as second class citizens, who had to constantly pay homage to the “superiority” of whites. In this process of perpetual self-degrading, they ended up loosing respect for themselves, as individuals and as a race.Indeed, the most poignant passages are not so much those in which Richard is abused by whites as the ones where he is abused by “his own”, starting with his family. The book opens with the infamous scene of four year-old Richard being beaten unconscious by his mother (for accidentally burning down the house). This is the first of a long series of beatings, in the course of the book, by his mom, his dad, his aunt, his uncles, his grandmother, his grandfather (did I miss anyone?). In Wright’s analysis, whites had created a society that trapped blacks in their own underworld of misery, with very little possibility of escaping this stunted existence.The novel is about Richard’s attempt to break free from this condition of servitude and humiliation. He first struggles to make his family, his black peers and his white counterparts respect him. Wright portrays himself as willful, always bent on rejecting the behaviors his family and society try to impose on him. He will not let himself be molded into the archetypical “black boy” that everyone wants him to be: he shuns religion, gratuitous deference to older people and, more importantly, subjection to whites… until he realizes that, in order to survive, a certain dose of hypocrisy is needed. When he starts “respecting” whites as his black friends teach him to do, he feels like he is betraying himself, his rebellious, freedom-seeking nature. The only thing that allows him to keep on pretending is his overwhelming desire to leave the South.I say “leave” the South and not “go North” because his goal is a negative one – escape hell – and not the positive one you would expect from the American dream narrative, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. Wright is running away from a dreadful existence, not running towards a compelling one. And sure enough, the second half of the book, about his life in Chicago, is not the “happy ending” we would expect. The North is no paradise, and what Richard gains in dignity (the Yankees do treat him with more respect and less discrimination than the Rednecks) he seems to loose in serenity: life in Chicago is enticing and glamorous… for those who can afford living it. The protagonist finds himself living a second class life, similar to that of the South, even though, formally, he is not discriminated against: it seems as though “class awareness” has somehow merged and even trumped “race awareness”. Wright becomes a member of the Communist party and gives his contribution to the fight against injustice, although he quickly understands that such a profound and structural problem can in no way be solved by a dogmatic and stifling ideology.As I mentioned, Black Boy is a disturbing account not only of Richard Wright’s life, but, more importantly, of America’s recent past which, as events in Ferguson remind us, in some way continues to bleed into the present. I have enormous respect for America, and I believe in the principles on which it was founded. However, even America’s most enthusiastic proponents should never forget or downplay the tragedies it has allowed on its soil, which negate the very principles it professes to uphold. Two centuries of discrimination, mistreatment and even de-humanization have left scars on a Nation that prides itself on being the world’s beacon of freedom, democracy and human rights. What strikes me even more is that the events that Wright describes took place during the period Hitler was in power in Germany. In other words, World War II America – the America that saved Europe from nazism and fought in the name of human dignity – is also the America that oppressed an entire category of its own citizens with laws, norms and behaviors that were anything but civilized.Having said all this, I think Wright – who died in Paris in 1960 – would be pleased with how America has since corrected its course. The Civil Rights act and all the atonement that came with it marked a milestone in American history. I believe that for all its misdeeds, America has a redeeming feature that trumps everything else: the capacity to reflect on its actions and reverse them when they are found to be contrary to its core values. This does not in any way erase the damage done to countless generations of African-Americans, but it does show that the professed goal of building “a more perfect Union” based on the inalienable rights of every human being actually means something, at least in the long term.
  •     What a great read - I can't understand why this wasn't a required read in high school. A raw and honest perspective.
  •     This is one of those books which provoked such a strong reaction in me, everyone who came near me while I was reading it got to hear all about it.
  •     This was a wonderful book. I am amazed by what Richard Wright was able to accomplish with so little and in such harsh living and racial conditions. It's inspirational.
  •     I work with underprivileged kids. I read the book on the recommendation of the chancellor of Texas A&M University at Prairieville.
  •     Had wanted to read this book for sometime, and I'm so glad I did.
  •     I've known of Richard Wright for a long time. I partially read "Native Son" sometime in my teens but I never read any of his other works. I was brought to this book via another book: "Kafir Boy in America" by Mark Mathabane. In that book he describes how Richard Wright's "Black Boy" had a profound affect upon him; hence I decided to read "Black Boy"."Black Boy" is an autobiography and I think that that is why I found it so powerful. Just to read, first person, how it was to grow up as a Black male in the South during the 10's and 20's is riveting. I know, academically and cognitively that slavery existed as did the Jim Crow era--but to read first hand accounts of the physical, mental, economical, social and psychological torment that many Blacks faced--that's another thing entirely.Richard Wright writes openly about his family life and his extra-family life in Mississippi. He faced daily abuses from both, his near-fanatically religious family as well as the Whites he had to work for. But more than the physical and verbal abuses that Richard detailed, I found myself as much bothered by the transformation he had to make whenever confronting White people. He was not allowed to be a man and therefore act like one, he was always expected to be a boy. Even the job titles were "cleaning boy", "elevator boy", or just simply "boy for..." when they were hiring adults with families. Like a method actor, he would have to transmogrify into a slumped shouldered, downcast, foot-shuffling, speech deficient "boy". He could not stand up straight like a man, or look another in the eyes, or speak like a man, or even display any emotions beyond stupid gaiety, fear, or humility.I found out quickly that Richard was not constructed for that place or that era--that's why he journeyed North. Whereas other Black folks were able to seamlessly and automatically turn on the "Black Boy" act and compartmentalize that part of their life; Richard found himself hard pressed to do so--which was a problem because his life depended upon it.I was enthralled by the book. This particular copy has the addition of his life in Chicago which used to be printed as a separate book. Part two of this published edition deals with Richard as an adult in Chicago and being a part of the Communist Party. Although not as compelling, it was an interesting read into how the Communist Party could be so appealing to Blacks at that time. This book is a real page turner and a must read for a real historical reference to a dark era in American history.
  •     Was for school
  •     I read black boy as a young youth, and I can honestly say it changed my perspective on the black struggle in America.
  •     Black Boy brings you into the life of Richard Wright and shows you the trials and errors that he faced, being a black man growing up during the post-civil war era.
  •     I had to read this book for my 11th grade AP English class. Expecting it to be another "meh" nonfiction book, I began to read it with somewhat low expectations; however, my mind was completely changed after the first three pages. Richard Wright's autobiography is a wild ride the whole way through, and despite what other reviewers may say, it really is an interesting read. While it isn't perfect (the so-called "Communist" portion of it wasn't the most interesting thing), the good parts greatly outweigh the poor ones.Many reviewers claim that it isn't "interesting" because this is what every black American was going through during the Jim Crow period. Even if most black children during this era were drunks at age six, it's still interesting because it gives an insight as to what this race had to go through during this terrible time in history. Others say that it's a horrible book because Wright is blaming everyone around him, or thinks that he's superior to everyone else; the truth is, he has a right to feel that way. Wright grew up neglected (through no fault of his mother), hated by whites, and was abused by his grandmother because of his craving for literature. When everyone around him is suppressing him in some way, he's going to feel bitter and angry-- it's natural human emotion. And while his neighbors and friends were more concerned with getting jobs or playing in the woods, Wright wanted to discover literature and become an intellectual-- of course he's going to feel superior to them on an academic scale.Overall, I believe this book is a very interesting read and recommend it to all who are interested in seeing how harsh the Jim Crow era was for people of color.
  •     One of the best books I have ever read. I've never read nonfiction​ quite like what is offered here.

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