Aside from the book’s aesthetic and historical value, Black Boy gives important insights into the evolution of a writer. The shocks and blows he has received so far could have happened to any number of black children at that time in the South. Why, then, did Richard Wright’s character take an exceptional turn?
Ever since his mother’s illness and the changes it brought to his life style, Richard has been increasingly unable to communicate and participate with his contemporaries. For a brief time, it appears he might at least have the pleasure of friendship and companions in school. (If he had, perhaps he never would have left the South or written. Perhaps he would have been able to adjust his personality to the Jim Crow way of life, and he would have remained anonymous one of many “black boys.”) But his mother’s illness has made a permanent difference in his nature, and this difference combined with the forces of rebellion and individualism to form Richard Wright the writer.
As he moves from job to job, from the seventh to the eighth grade in school, he is always conspicuous by his attitude of detachment. It makes him unpopular not only with his coworkers, but with his classmates. He has a short story printed in the local black newspaper, and most of the people he knows are completely bewildered by it. A black boy is not supposed to do those things.
The provincialism of his people is both a good and a bad thing in this case. While they upbraid and try to shame Richard, instead of embracing and praising him for his accomplishment, they are also unable to see the larger design in this small event. Therefore, there is no one who can warn him, in realistic terms, against trying to fulfill his dreams of being a writer. If there had been someone around with the sophistication to know the dangers and hazards in the path his life was taking, he might have been stopped. But there is no one to do that, and so he nurtures his dreams.