Essay about Importance of Language in Richard Wright's Black Boy

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The Importance of Language in Black Boy Richard Wright's novel Black Boy is not only a story about one man's struggle to find freedom and intellectual happiness, it is a story about his discovery of language's inherent strengths and weaknesses. And the ways in which its power can separate one soul from another and one class from another. Throughout the novel, he moves from fear to respect, to abuse, to fear of language in a cycle of education which might be likened to a tumultuous love affair. From the very beginning of the novel we see young Richard realize the power of language when he follows his father's literal directions and kills a cat he has befriended(12). Although he knows that this is not really what…show more content…
Although his love of language is soon reinforced when Ella reads him the wonderful story of Bluebeard and His Seven Wives(44), he is severely rebuked for it-which proves to him again that language can be dangerous. He says that his response to the story Ella reads him is an "emotional response"(47), and that it carries a "sharp, frightening, and almost painful excitement"(48) with it. This gives him further respect for language and its power. At the same time it again brings fear, because his aunt tells him that novels are the "Devil's work." This fear stays with him through the next few years. So much so that he cannot even write his name on the blackboard. When he raises his arm to write his name, his mind goes blank and empty-he cannot even remember his name at this point, much less write it. He continues to ignore in language that which he does not like, does not understand, or does not agree with. He uses its power sparingly: writing letters to relatives when his mother is sick, and reading only sporadically, until a new job teaches him that ignorance of language does not work in his interests either. When he is selling newspapers that he has not been reading, he is advised by an older black man that he should read what he is selling. It seems impossible that in all the time he has been selling these papers he has not yet read one of them, and so one must believe that he has unconsciously been ignoring the
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