Richard\'s Hungers (on the book, Black Boy)


Richard’s Hungers

Have you ever experienced real hunger? The kinds of hungers that
Richard experiences in Black Boy are not evident in the society where
you and I reside. The present middle class citizens cannot really relate
to true physical hunger. Hunger for most of us is when there is nothing
that we desire to eat around the house and therefore skip one meal. This
cannot even compare to the days that Richard endures without food.
Physical hunger, however, is not the only hunger apparent in Richard’s life.
Richard suffers from emotional and educational hungers as well. He yearns
for such things as mere association with others and simple books to read.
Both of which are things that most people take for granted. This efficacious
autobiography, Black Boy, by Richard Wright manifests what it is like to
desire such simple paraphernalia.
From a very early age and for much of his life thereafter, Richard
experiences chronic physical hunger. “Hunger stole upon me slowly that at
first I was not aware of what hunger really meant. Hunger had always been
more or less at my elbow when I played, but now I began to wake up at night
to find hunger standing at my bedside, staring at me gauntly” (16). Soon
after the disappearance of Richard’s father, he begins to notice constant
starvation. This often reappears in his ensuing life. The type of hunger
that Richard describes is worse than one who has not experienced chronic
hunger can even imagine. “Once again I knew hunger, biting hunger, hunger
that made my body aimlessly restless, hunger that kept me on edge, that
made my temper flare, that made my temper flare, hunger that made hate
leap out of my heart like the dart of a serpent’s tongue, hunger that
created in me odd cravings” (119). Because hunger has always been a part
of Richard’s lifestyle, he cannot even imagine eating meat every day.
This simple privilege would be a miracle to him, yet to most it is nothing.
These weakening and piercing hungers are frequently evident where poverty
dwells in the Jim Crow South.
Furthermore, emotional hunger also represses much of Richard’s life.
Richard desires attention from people. However, since he does not receive
much of this at home, he does not really know how to associate with others.
This provokes a problem when he leaves home because he cannot understand the
friendliness of people around him. “Nevertheless, I was so starved for
association with people that I allowed myself to be seduced by it all, and
for a few months I lived the life of an optimist” (178). Richard’s home was
mostly a hostile environment, therefore, in addition to craving food he also
yearns for love. Another thing that contributes to Richard’s emotional hunger
the subject of blacks and whites. “I wanted to understand these two sets of
people who lived side by side and never touched, it seemed, except in violence”
(54). He viewed this culture of justifiable torment as senseless, but dared
not go against it. Richard accepted this segregation, but never let the whites
go too far in the way they treated him. Richard desired to be able to speak
his mind and not be tormented by the whites. It was harder for him than others
to succumb to these ways, which is why he moved to the North. Oftentimes this
emotional state leads to loneliness and overwhelming grief.
Although all these hungers are very significant, the hunger for education
is the one that Richard has the hardest time enduring. Richard is a very bright
boy, yet nobody encourages him to learn because Negro children of the Jim Crow
South just did not grow up to be successful. In fact, many blacks settled for
ignorance and illiteracy. However, Richard takes full advantage of the few
opportunities he does encounter to learn and read. “I hungered for the sharp,
frightening, breathtaking, almost painful excitement that the story had given
me, and I vowed that as soon as I was old enough I would buy all the novels
there were and read them to feed that thirst for violence that was in me, for
intrigue, for plotting, for secrecy, for bloody murders” (46). Richard
passionately craves reading, but his