Defining Roles through the Use of Language in Richard Wright’s Autobiography, Black Boy

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Defining Roles through the Use of Language in Richard Wright’s Autobiography, Black Boy

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In his autobiography, Black Boy, Richard Wright is constantly feeling alone and cast from society. He always knew he was different from his friends and the other kids; he knew that there was something separating himself from his peers- language. Throughout the novel Wright uses language to define roles, to define himself, and to define society.

Wright’s use of language and rhetorical techniques allows his readers to know exactly which characters are filling which roles in the novel. For example, when Richard walks into his boss’s office to explain that had been bitten by the man’s dog, his boss’s secretary uses short concise sentences. ‘”He isn’t here now,’ she said, and went back to her typing,” explains the exact manner in which Richard was treated. the syntax exhibited here demonstrates that the secretary does not have — nor does she want to have — the time to listen to a black boy in pain. This clearly shows that this secretary is above Richard and has no desire to slip down to his level. Furthermore, Richard uses a different syntax when speaking back to the secretary. His sentences are longer while remaining simplistic. “His dog bit me, ma’am, and I’m afraid I might get an infection” demonstrates how the diction in Richard’s sentences is much less offensive and accompanied by a certain sense of inferiority, showing his fear of this white secretary without actually saying it. Just from Wright’s choice of wording (diction and syntax), the roles in this passage are clearly drawn and defined.

Wright not only defines the roles of others in this passage but, with language, he defines himself. For example, when Richard says things like; “Can’t I see the Boss?” “It’s swelling, ” and “sonofabitch”; they are not taken with a playful connotation. His frequent use of contractions and poorly structured sentences bring to the forefront, basically, exactly how uneducated he truly is. This use of diction in his dialogue easily shows his character and exactly who he is.

Lastly, Wright’s use of language defines society as a whole.


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