Language as the Key to Identity and Social Acceptance in Richard Wright’s Book, Black Boy

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Language as the Key to Identity and Social Acceptance in Richard Wright’s Book, Black Boy

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According to African American writer, James Baldwin, language is a “vivid and crucial key to identity” and social acceptance. Black Boy, by Richard Wright, defends Baldwin’s belief. In a selected Black Boy passage, where Richard and his friends converse, the rhetorical techniques, pathos and warrants assist to convey Wright’s own attitude toward the importance of language as a key to identity and social acceptance.

The idea that language is important to identity and social acceptance is defended in the passage by the utilization of pathos. Diction largely relays the comfortability of Richard and his friends with each other by not speaking in proper English, with phrases like, “that ain’t gonna do you no good,” and words like “miz” for “miss” and “scareda” as “scared of.” Also, syntax is used to make short explanatory sentences after each blurb of dialog: “An angry grunt of supreme racial assertion.” Language as an indicator of social acceptance is also seen in the word choice, with a wide array of cuss words, like “sonofabitch”, “hell”, and “nigger”. Repetition is developed through out the passage with the word “silence,” to indicate the identity of the boys with language. Wright also incorporates personification, personifying the boys talk being able to “weave, roll, surge, spurt, veer, swell…” showing the comfortability and social acceptance of each other because of language. Richard Wright’s use of pathos helps to defend Baldwin’s beliefs on language.

Another rhetorical technique that aids as a defense for Baldwin’s views is Wright’s use of value-based assumptions, or warrants. The boys establish their black identity through diction, referring to on another as “nigger” and “we”, “naive” and “race”. Many assumptions are made about whites with rhetorical questions like, “Man, ain’t they ugly?” and other race related questions. The conversation of Wright and his friends make the assumption that whites treat blacks poorly, which establishes identity through language. Agreeing of the other boys with the “racial assertion” further leads to social acceptance. Repetition of negative statements about “whites” also further strengthens the warrants. “The enemy is an animal to be killed on sight” is a metaphor, which illustrates the black assumptions of whites through language.


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