Use of Rhetorical Strategies in Richard Wright’s Autobiography, Black Boy
Richard Wright grew up in a bitterly racist America. In his autobiography Black Boy, he reveals his personal experience with the potency of language. Wright delineates the efficacious role language plays in forming one’s identity and social acceptance through an ingenious use of various rhetorical strategies.
Richard’s own identity as well as his personal identification of others is formed through language. For example, in Richard’s encounter with the Yankee, Richard used language to fill up the “yawning, shameful gap.” He uses personification to emphasize the awkwardness of their conversation. This awkwardness was a result of the Yankee’s probing questions. Richard described it as an “unreal-natured” conversation, but, paradoxically, he also admits, “of course the conversation was real; it dealt with my welfare.” The Yankee man then tried to offer Richard a dollar, and spoke of the blatant hunger in Richard’s eyes. This made Richard feel degraded and ashamed. Wright uses syntax to appropriately place the conversation before making his point in his personal conclusions. In the analogy, “A man will seek to express his relation to the stars…that loaf of bread is as important as the stars” (loaf of bread being the metonymy for food), Wright concludes “ it is the little things of life “ that shape a Negro’s destiny. An interesting detail is how Richard refuses the Yankee’s pity; he whispers it. From then on, Richard identified him as an enemy. Thus, through that short, succinct exchange of words, two identities were molded.
Language is also pivotal in determining Richard’s social acceptance. For instance, Mr. Olin, a white man tries to probe Richard into fighting another black boy. Richard was disturbed. He uses contrast to show his disturbance, “the eye glasses…were forgotten. My eyes were on Mr. Olin’s face.” A certain dramatic irony exists exists when Richard asks, “Who was my friend, the white man or the black boy?” The reader knows it is the black boy. Wright uses detail such as Mr. Olin’s “low, confidential,” voice to create an apocryphally amiable tone. If Richard complies with Mr. Olin’s deceiving language, he would gain the social acceptance of the white men. If not, he would be ostracized as a pariah. Wright uses a metaphor, “my delicately balanced world had tipped” to show his confusion.