It is difficult to get a clear impression of Richard’s mother. This is one of the difficulties in writing about people close to one; one is unable to see them as types. It is often simpler to treat such people only in subjective terms; that is, how does she affect me.
Richard’s mother is a solid presence throughout the book. She tongue-lashes him often, beats and slaps him, and seems to be very stern, a replica of her own mother. Yet somehow one senses that Richard may have received some of his training in rebellion from her. She is not happy living in the religious household they are forced so often to inhabit, and she even rewards Richard with a kiss when he successfully revolts against his grandmother’s will. Her suffering, her paralysis, and private sorrows do not hinder her from influencing her son.
One feels that Mrs. Wright is a tremendous force in Richard’s life, probably the most important influence on his character. She is strong in the face of overwhelming adversity. Her anger at his behavior seems far less motivated by abstract ideas of goodness than by the frustrations of her own existence. She strikes out at him because there is no one else around to strike. Those who have destroyed the possibilities of a full life for her are people she can’t touch. Abandoned by her husband for another woman, she is left with herself alone, at first, and is then dependent on her family for survival. As soon as Richard is grown, she chooses to be with him, no matter how insecure the life may be.
Although Ella Wright lives by the ethics of Jim Crow, she has a dignity which cuts across those limitations. We see her always in terms of Richard, by the way he reacts to her. The reader has a feeling that she has great spirit as she endures her daily humiliations and suffering.