Most autobiographical writing has two points of view: that of the writer as he was then and that of the writer as he exists in the present. Consequently many of the conclusions which Wright draws from his early behavior are seen only in retrospect; at the time about which he is writing he was unaware of many factors. Looking back, even seemingly blind actions have a significant motive. The writer learns who he was, and is, by writing. As we follow, step by step, the evolution of Richard Wright’s personality, we must believe him more than we believe the narrator of a work of fiction. The objective quality of Wright’s voice throughout Black Boy gives the tale an authority it might otherwise lack.
When he arrives in Memphis in 1925, Richard is on his own for the first time in his life. He is separated from his family, not only by miles but by money. He has no choice but to succeed. Yet, in spite of his many experiences as a young black in a tough world, he is still naive in many ways. We know this not because we are told, but because Wright shows us. His relationship, for example, with his landlady, Mrs. Moss, is such that the reader is as confused about her as Richard is. He is overwhelmed at once by her warmth and her tolerance two characteristics he rarely found at home. He doesn’t want to be suspicious of her, but he is. She offers him her house, her food, her friendship, and her daughter.
To Richard, this type of woman is completely new. Therefore he cannot go by any former experience in dealing with her daughter, Bess; he must follow his instincts, which tell him to refuse her. At all times the possibility of his being trapped in an irreversible situation is present. It’s a new kind of danger less violent and obvious than those he has encountered before but nevertheless it is a danger.
Mrs. Moss is a universal type of woman, and once he has learned how to deal with her, he will know much more about women in general. She is a woman whose maternal and erotic instincts are at variance with each other; and, in order to relieve her frustrations at the restrictions of age and society, she must use her daughter as a vicarious means of obtaining erotic satisfaction for herself, while forming an ultra-maternal relationship with the lover in question. There is nothing either conscious or malicious about her responses to people. But her frustration makes her dangerous.
It takes a while for Richard to establish with Mrs. Moss and her daughter a relationship that is suitable for them all. But when he realizes that they are as innocent as he is, he is able to act like a man rather than an ignorant boy.
It is through an experience like this that the reader can see that Richard is approaching maturity. The writing is convincing not by being highly emotional, nor by being unrealistic in its conclusions; it is convincing because the boy is becoming the man who is writing the book, and the two points of view are beginning to merge into one voice.