The world young Wright faces is, in many ways, similar to the one he has left behind. Home and school have prepared him, psychologically, for the shock of working with whites. He is a victim of their racist arrogance, just as he is also a victim of Granny’s and Aunt Addie’s terrible righteousness. The difference is in the response he is able to give.
He is beaten up by whites passing in a car; he is fired from one job for witnessing the beating of a black woman by whites; he is tortured by two white co-workers in an optical house and in all these cases, he is not allowed to respond as a man. At least at home he could fight back or argue his side of the story, and, even if it led nowhere, he had the small satisfaction of responding like a human being. But in the world he now occupies daily, he is stripped of his manhood. In order to survive, he has to bow and scrape before these white individuals. A look in his eyes, a silent declaration of self-esteem, is enough to have him kicked or fired. And he cannot control the look in his eyes. He is being humiliated daily and can’t even communicate his rage to a black friend, Griggs, who gets him the job in the optical house, where a Yankee is boss. Griggs tells him that when he’s in front of white people, he must think before he acts, think before he speaks. Richard’s way of doing things is all right among blacks, but is wrong for white people. They won’t stand for it.
Richard knows that Griggs is right, that is, insofar as survival is the first concern of a man. And Richard wants to survive. But he also wants to go North, he wants to write, and he wants to be a man. Without these dreams for the future, he would become what his family has predicted: a two-bit criminal who will end up on the gallows. For the sake of the future, he puts his manhood aside and tries the new job.
His employer is sympathetic, but his coworkers are out to get him. And here Richard suffers the deepest humiliation yet. Tortured and bullied by the two whites, he leaves work, determined never to return. But Mr. Crane, the boss, calls him back and asks for an explanation. He cannot give it for fear of the fate he will receive, and he comes close to breaking down. All he can say is that he’s going North. The boss agrees and Richard leaves, ashamed of himself to the depths of his being. He has not even, in this case, been successful at Jim Crow living. He has not managed, like Griggs, to avoid the abuse of whites by pandering to their whims. Yet he has not managed, either, to respond like a man. He has only one thought: escape.