The Significance of Language in Richard Wright’s Black Boy

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The Significance of Language in Richard Wright’s Black BoyRichard Wright had the “privilege” to experience America society, probably, at its worst. He saw how humans had the ability to treat other humans. His autobiography tells the tale, but it also gives life to words, to language. Wright had a gift for writing and he uses many techniques to bring that writing to life; for example, the exchange of words between whites and blacks gives the reader insight as to how much respect each race held for each other, or the degree of imagery he uses to bring the book to life. Both of these techniques show how language-words set us apart in society.

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Back in the 1920’s there were lines set before a black man that he was expected not to cross. Blacks were looked down upon in American society; not just by whites, but by everyone, including Jews. When a white person spoke to a black person, that white person expected and demanded respect from that black person. And if the kind of respect that was sought after was given, then you might as well run and never come back. Richard saw this in his everyday life, it was normal, and he conveys it in his writing. For instance, when Richard is arguing with his principal about his valedictorian speech the language that comes from Richard is full of anger and resentment; however, though his tone sings one tune, his words sing a totally different one. The words that Richard spits out at his principal are filled with a certain respect that is not practiced or learned but built in. In any place that Richard ever worked or visited if and when he encountered a white man or woman he removed his hat and always answered with “yes or no ma’am” or “yes or no sir”. That kind of respect and speech had always been around and was assumed around. Richard knew that if you were black and in the white-world you didn’t speak until spoken to; and this can be found all through Black Boy.

Imagery, Richard uses a plethora of it throughout his book. It is the collection of images that helps you see what Richard is trying to show the world. When Richard is arguing with his principal, you can picture it perfectly…. This tall skinny black boy standing in a small office arguing with this red faced fat white man who is sitting at a desk.


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