Language as culture – “Black Boy”

Richard Wright’s autobiographical Black Boy was met with controversy when it was published.

A little background

Do some biographical research on Wright’s life.

Task: use the site:.edu search tool to find more academic writing.

Adding some depth

Professor Hungerford gives some good contextual background on the writing of Black Boy. 

Task: Take some notes on how the publishing context impacting upon the writing. 

– “we can make the mistake that it is somehow not literary. You have to choose what goes into that narrative” (36:30)

What were some of the problems with the autobiography as perceived by publishers?

Keep in mind anything that connects to our 3 significant ideas. 

Identity

Through the autobiography, it becomes evident that Wright’s tension comes from his inability to ‘fit-in’. His search for self-actualization, illuminated by his love of literature sets him apart in his community.

Task: Read his final thoughts presented in the autobiography. What does this suggest about self-actualization?

 Task: Read the conversation he has with his neighbour about his writing. How might the neighbour’s attitude reflect the attitude of the time? 

As an aside, Plato’s allegory of the cave provides some insight as to why Wright was so apart. You might like to review the allegory of the cave and consider the significance here. Of note, when the prisoners were shown what created the shadow puppets, they didn’t believe they were real as the puppets were beyond the prisoners experience. Likewise, African Americans in the time of the text had no concept of an existence outside of oppression, and so did not recognise it when they saw it (the neighbour did not recognise the freedom implicit in Richard’s writing).

So, how is this evident in the language?

TASK: Read closely sections of chapter one to locate two contrasting “voices”. On the one hand you should be able to find examples of the African American voice (look carefully at the dialogue). This is part of the culture. On the other hand you should be able to identify the stylistic voice of Wright (if you don’t know what I mean, check page six.) 

TASK: Write a response that suggests why this is significant? How might this be representative of Wright himself? How might it affect the relationship between the text and the audience.  You should be able to tie this to the second of our key concepts: Language, culture and context determine the ways in which meaning is constructed in texts.

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