Now that Richard is fully conscious of his limitations, he is just about ready to transform them into assets. If he can’t be one thing, he will be another. He is desperate to leave Jackson, to start the slow journey to the North. But he has to have money to do so and is consistently fired from one job after another because of the look in his eyes. At first his blackness is all that white people see, but then to their shock they notice a certain expression in his eyes and they are afraid of him. They don’t want him around anymore because he won’t play “nigger.”
In his novels, Richard Wright explores in depth the evolution of a criminal. He sees criminality as arising inevitably from certain social strains. It is as inevitable as mixing certain ingredients to make a cherry pie. He views the individual as being without personal responsibility for his crime. The criminal’s actions are beyond his own control. Social forces have conspired to produce them.
In his desperate state, Richard is given only one option for escape, and that is crime. Although he is, by training and temperament, too sensitive, sensible, and moral to make crime his business, he is, under the circumstances, prepared to take advantage of its existence. There is no other way out. He will have to steal the money for his escape.
He does not arrange the situation easily. It’s a simple matter of graft, and he needs only two hundred dollars. But the mental agony he suffers is the price he pays for it. Later, he will be able to write about crime out of this experience; he will, in fact, be obsessed by it in most of his writing. But as he lives it, the risks are overwhelming, and he is fraught with fear.
It doesn’t help that this is the single act in his life that his family would have expected of him. As such, it is the last thing he wants to do. But he does do it because there is nothing else for him. He is successful and gets what he wants in a short period of time. But instead of being tempted to continue the gamble, he stops at the limit he set for himself, packs his bags, promises his mother that he will send for her, and leaves Jackson for Memphis.
Richard learns that crime means suffering and he wants no part of it. More than that, it solves nothing in the way of social problems. It might, temporarily, soothe an individual’s pain. But it does not contribute to a social revolution. Consistent with the point of view expressed so far, Wright responds to this experience on a social, rather than a moral, basis. He concludes that crime is only evil insofar as it fails to improve society. Criminality occurs when all other opportunities have been cut off; it serves a transitory need. Richard’s suffering is foremost in this situation. And even though he is now liberated, he is neither happy nor hopeful. The future is as fearful as ever.