Summary and Analysis Chapter 5


The freedom that Richard has achieved by the age of twelve is unusual. It is a freedom of many facets. He no longer receives orders from Granny and Addie; they have given up on him. At the same time, this freedom from their criticism is also a freedom from their interest in him and is perhaps an example of how the lack of tenderness he sees between black people actually evolves. But, if Addie and Granny have no concern for Richard, he too is free of any concern for them. The unspoken pact between them means that they will no longer care about each other. And for one who is already an outsider, it is a relief not to be forced to show affection or demonstrate loyalty. This is, in itself, a form of freedom.

Since most children are rebellious and individualistic, it can be assumed that this form of freedom was achieved by many other black boys besides Richard. What slavery and its aftermath of fear had done was to make parents and grandparents protect those children they could repress and reject those they couldn't. To this extent, Richard was probably typical. He was sent out into the world to fend for himself without much support at home.

At twelve years old, Richard has had only one full year of school, but when he reenters school, he is advanced to the sixth grade. Granny's reaction is to see Richard as more peculiar than ever. Here we see him relating to the outside world on its own terms. He is a complete individual both intellectually curious and capable of waging physical warfare. His qualifications are fine for any gang, but his aspirations are destined to be squelched.

Richard's friends work on the weekends, but Granny forbids him to do so, which means he can't join his friends during lunch hour shopping sprees. Knowing that Granny won't let him out after he has gone home, he forfeits meals in order to explore his environment. He is learning what his priorities are now. By necessity, he is educating himself, and this involves extensive choices, choices that are usually imposed by others.

One of the most crucial of these choices comes with his experience selling newspapers. The job is highly rewarding: it gives him a chance to earn money and a chance to read adventure stories in the supplement section of the paper. His imagination is on fire; he loves to read. But then comes the awful discovery that the newspaper's publishers are racist. Granny and Addie have been giving him many reasons for thinking himself wicked. He has rejected them all. With this discovery, he judges himself on his own terms. With all the benefits the job gives him, it is morally wrong for him to continue it.

In the summer, he takes a job that he enjoys as an assistant to an insurance salesman. They travel into the Delta country and to plantations where Richard measures himself against the poor, illiterate children there. They look up to him as one who is "city-fied," successful, and admirable. It's a new experience for him to be treated as a model for others. And for once he gets plenty to eat. He wants to continue the job, but his employer dies another in a series of letdowns.

With Richard's grandfather's death, we have a portrait of practically an invisible man in the house. It is as if he assumes substance in Richard's life only when he is dying. He takes on a historical rather than a personal significance, for he served in the Union Army and, disabled, spent the remainder of his life expecting the government to send him the pension he deserved. His brief life history sums up the history of black Americans. Any soldier is a slave. And a black soldier is a slave's slave. Once again Richard is conscious of whites as an abstract force of evil.

Outside of the writers whom Richard comes to admire, there are no male models in his life. His grandfather has remained all but invisible. Those men he has had contact with have repelled him. He hates their failure to rebel when they are the potential righters of wrong. The life of his grandfather only affirms the growing impression he has of blacks as unconscious coconspirators in a racist system. In his later work, Wright seems to be saying that every act short of killing is an act of cowardice on the part of a black man. And perhaps if his grandfather had gone out and shot a white man in revenge for his tragic life, Richard would have had one male model to look up to. Instead, he witnesses one frustration after another, and it all contributes to his growing rage.

Richard himself has learned to rebel. His mother trained him to defend himself in the streets by locking the door on him. In this chapter, we see that the act of rebellion cannot be separated from one's life style. It is natural for Richard to resist his grandmother when her commands are irrational. It doesn't involve thought or planning. When he threatens to leave her house if she doesn't allow him to work, he means it. He is not playing on her sympathies. He is a rebel, and so Granny gives in. For this successful act of resistance, he receives a kiss from his mother who, with that one gesture, sums up the tragic losses of her own life.

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