The Impact of Language on Identity and Social Acceptance in Richard Wright’s Novel, Black Boy

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The Impact of Language on Identity and Social Acceptance in Richard Wright’s Novel, Black Boy

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The entire act, the entire situation, the entire experience of discovery is not only unique to each and every individual, but more importantly, a thrilling tumult of emotions gone haywire and perceptions completely altered. Richard Wright, in his autobiographical work Black Boy, attempts to convey the discovery of nothing less than language itself. Employing a wide variety of rhetorical devices and insightful commentaries, Wright expertly conveys his newfound respect for language and its tangible impact on both identity and social acceptance.

Perhaps most notable throughout the passage is Wright’s use of rhetorical questions to both outline his whirling thought processes at the time and create a sense of the urgency in his audience. “Why did he write like that? And how did one write like that?…What was this?” By providing answers to some of his own questions and the allowing the readers to do so for themselves for the rest, Wright engages the readers, bringing them along for the ride of discovery. “Who were these men?” Wright asks, “Who was Anatole France? Joseph Conrad? Sinclair Lewis, Dostoevsky, Moore, Gustave Flaubert, Maupassant, Tolstoy, Frank Harris, Mark Twain…” In fact, an entire paragraph is dedicated to these the listing of these authors, whose names were meant to both intrigue the audience and create a sense of fascination. The fast-paced, almost tumultuous wave of new perceptions conveys Wright’s newfound awe over the effect effective use of language could have.

Wright’s choice of diction, chosen to convey both imagery and invoke ethos also proves to be effective. He describes Mencken as he pictured him at the time, active and in a furor, “a raging demon, slashing with his pen, consumed with hate, denouncing everything American, extolling everything European… laughing…mocking.” These words, full of fierce emotions, conveys exactly how deeply Wright feels the language of Mencken. With the forming of a realization that one’s use of language could impact how others saw one, and perhaps even influence what one truly was, Wright describes how his impulse to dream of writing “surged up again…I hungered for books, new ways of looking and seeing.


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