Sunday, May 4, 2008

Richard Wright "Black Boy"

I remember reading "Black Boy" by Richard Wright in 12th grade honors English and it made a real impression on me. Since then, my memories of the book have faded and I remembered only that it was my favorite school assigned book.

I've since picked up the 400 page autobiography of the author's early life and, while I've found it to be disappointing in some respects, I've definitely rediscovered its appeal. Here's a favorite selection:

"Granny was an ardent member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and I was compelled to make a pretense of worshiping her God, which was her exaction for my keep. The elders of her church expounded a gospel clogged with images of vast lakes of eternal fire, of seas vanishing, of valleys of dry bones, of the sun burning to ashes, of the moon turning to blood, of stars falling to earth, of a wooden staff being transformed into a serpent, of voices speaking out of clouds, of men walking upon water, of God riding whirlwinds, of water changing into wine, of the dead rising and living, of the blind seeing, of the lame walking; a salvation that teemed with fantastic beasts having multiple heads and horns and eyes and feet; sermons of statues possessing heads of gold, shoulders of silver, legs of brass, and feet of clay; a cosmic tale that began before time and ended with the clouds of the sky rolling away at the Second Coming of Christ; chronicles that concluded with the Armageddon; dramas thronged with all the billions of human beings who had ever lived or died as God judged the quick and the dead . . .

While listening to the vivid language of the sermons I was pulled toward emotional belief, but as soon as I went out of the church and saw the bright sunshine and felt the throbbing life of the people in the streets I knew that none of it was true and that nothing would happen."


SuiginChou said...

My memory for my current studies may be shot to hell, but I still remember all the things my crazy brain photomagically memorized in high school ... including the fact that we read Black Boy in the spring of 2002, i.e. 11th Grade. ;p :)

For me, the most memorable part of Black Boy was "the clap." I actually brought that up in Micro when we discussed Neisseria gonorrhea -- the teach was of the impression that "the clap" was a nickname for chlamydia!

Jay said...

Ah you're right! That must have been Inter-Dis, then? My mind has nearly scrubbed that era from my brain (amongst so much else).

SuiginChou said...

Yes; one way to confirm that in your memory is that Black Boy fits with InterDisc's American experience (in literature) and that Black Boy was a perfectly-placed selection for the Civil Rights era.