Violence as a Safeguard against Hostility 2017

Essay, 2017

10 Seiten



Richard Wright (1908- 1960), an African American author, has grown up in the American South at a time when the American society has witnessed deep division, for together with the Whites vs. Blacks conflict there has been The Blacks vs. Blacks tension likewise, and violence has formed the dominant behavior between the conflicting groups. Wright’s autobiographical novel, Black Boy, shows how he has been reared by a mother who believes that violence is the only effective strategy to protect her son from their violent environment. The misery and hardships the mother, Ella Wright, has undergone in her larger society as well as with her family and separated husband, have led her to adopt this strategy. She uses violence to teach her son the priority of family, religion, and beyond everything else she teaches him violence itself as a means of self­protection. Albeit this strategy affects the mother-son relationship negatively on the part of the son at the beginning, the son’s intellectual maturity minimizes its significance, and he gradually starts to generate sympathy and show deep understanding towards his mother. The article discusses Wright’s mother use of violence as a method for bringing up her son, Richard Wright in his autobiography, Black Boy. It also examines the impact of this method upon Richard’s relationship with his mother and how he perceives her maternal role. Finally, the conclusion sums up the main findings of the article.

Keywords {violence; Black Boy; Richard Wright; mother; son}

In a community where the color of the skin has been the criterion by which its members are assessed, Black people have suffered a constant pressure due to their lack of educational, economic, and social opportunities. Basically, this racial discrimination has led to an escalating Black and White conflict, but what is more escalating is Black on Black violence. This violence is perhaps attributed to various factors, among them is venting the anger and frustration they feel towards their unjust society. However, in this community Black mothers have suffered the most; besides the fact that they have to face being nonentities due to their undesirable color. They also have to bear a grave responsibility of raising a generation that is capable of facing such a difficult life as well. Moreover, black mothers have to protect their kids from this hostile enviromnent. Each and every mother has had her own strategy to fulfill this responsibility. One of these mothers is Richard Wright’s mother, Ella.

The mother-son relationship between Wright and his mother, as portrayed in his autobiography Black Boy, is one example of the African American mother relationship with her son, and violence, extraordinarily, forms the strategy which she believes is for his own advantage. The article focuses on Richard Wright’s mother tendency towards the use of violence, physical or emotional, as a viable strategy to raise her son in Richard Wright’s autobiography Black Boy. It also explores the influence of this strategy on her son and the relationship between them.

Bom in (1908) at Pucker’s Plantation in Roxie, Mississippi, Richard Wright, the son of Ella and Nathan Wright, a school teacher and a sharecropper, had spent most of his difficult childhood in the American South; the place where Wright, like all other Black people, has suffered semi-legalized discrimination, pauperization and deprivation of education.[1] This anti-Black South has provided the bleak setting of Wright’s Black Boy which is published in (1945). Black Boy or American Hunger: A Record of Childhood and Youth is regarded as the finest biography written by a Black author and one of the greatest autobiographies ever written in America. It includes twenty chapters distributed among two parts, Part I; ‘Southern Nights’, and Part II; ‘The Horror and the Glory’. Part I covers Richard’s childhood, while Part II covers his adulthood.

The autobiography opens with a dramatic scene of the four-year- old Richard setting his grandmother’s house on fire out of a child’s curiosity. Unnaturally he starts to run not to seek a mother’s haven from fire, but to seek a refuge from his mother’s punishment hiding under fire itself which he has believed the perfect place that would protect him from his furious mother:

The fire soared to the ceiling and I trembled with fright

Soon my mother would smell that smoke and see the fire and come and beat me Yes I would run away and never come back. I ran out of the kitchen and into the backyard.

Where could I go? Yes, under the house My mother must not find me and whip me for what I had done And neither did it occur to me that I was hiding under a burning house, (pp.4-5)[3]

The abject horror of being beaten up by his mother tells US that Richard has been experiencing this before, that now, being four years old, the cumulative impact of violence on Richard’s psychological state is apparent. The violent reaction of Ella against her son’s misbehavior has been so hard that the child loses his consciousness:

I was lashed so hard and long that I lost consciousness.

I was beaten out of my senses and later I found myself in bed, screaming, determined to run away, tussling with my mother and father who were trying to keep me still.

I was lost in a fog of fear. A doctor was called-1 was afterwards told- and he ordered that I be kept a bed, that I be kept quiet, that my very life depended upon it.(p.7)

Encountering this life-threatening violence has made this situation a critical moment in Richard’s life to the degree that he had made of it a start for his autobiographical novel.

Whenever Richard is beaten up, Ella justifies it with words like: ‘you’ve learned your lesson.’ (p.14) and ‘I’m going to teach you ’ (p.17) which gives the reader the impression that she is trying to perform the role of the teacher inside her own home, but what kind of teacher is she to Richard in this situation? She is probably a teacher who prefers apathy over empathy in order to achieve her aims. It appears that she’s been concerned about her son explicitly posing a threat to the family, she says in a cogent manner: ‘you almost scared US to death’ (p. 7), also implicitly posing a threat to the community and this would mean posing a threat to himself, hence, she tries to teach him, via violence, compliance with the family along with the community norms.


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Violence as a Safeguard against Hostility 2017
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
violence, Black, Boy, Richard, Wright, mother, son
Arbeit zitieren
Iman Khdairi (Autor), 2017, Violence as a Safeguard against Hostility 2017, München, GRIN Verlag,


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