Abraham Lincoln said, “It is difficult to make a man miserable when he feels he is worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him. ” This aptly describes the soul, spirit, and actions of Richard Wright. From his strong stance in defiance of injustice to his unwillingness to acquiesce as did those around him, Richard knew he was different from others– in all the right ways. Richard’s alienation resulted from his unwillingness to accept the unfairness he continually encountered. “‘Richard, give me that knife,’ my mother said. ‘But, mama, she’ll beat me, beat me for nothing,’ I said.
I’m not going to let her beat me; I don’t care what happens! ’” (127; ch. V) Even as a young boy, Richard took a stand, risking great punishment and bodily harm at the hands of a relative in order to stand for truth. Goaded into fighting with another black boy, Richard felt the shame of accepting money for participating in a racially motivated and staged fight. “I could not look at Harrison. I hated him and I hated myself. I clutched my five dollars in my fist and walked home. Harrison and I avoided each other after that and we rarely spoke. The white men attempted to arrange other fights for us, but we had sense enough to refuse. 287, ch. XII)
As a young student, Richard was “faced with a matter of principle. I wanted to graduate, but I did not want to make a public speech that was not my own. ” (207, ch. VIII) In the face of racial prejudice and pressure, Richard had to “make up [his] mind quickly” (207, ch. VIII) concerning his reaction when his principal ordered him to give a valedictory speech that had already been written for him: “Well, Richard Wright, here’s your speech,” he said with smooth bluntnessand shoved a stack of stapled sheets across his desk.
“What speech? I asked as I picked up the papers. The speech you’re to say the night ofgraduation,” he said. “But professor, I’ve written my speech already,” I said. He laughed confidently, indulgently. “Listen, boy, you’re going to speak to both white and colored people that night. What can you alone thinkof saying to them? You have no experience.. .” I burned. “I know thatI’m not educated, professor,” I said. But the people are coming to hear thestudents, and I won’t make a speech that you’ve written. ” (206, ch. VIII)False prestige, bogus power, and ignorant bigotry were the currency of the day.
I went home, hurt but determined. I had been talking to a ‘bought’ man and he had tried to ‘buy’ me. I felt that I had been dealing with something unclean. ” (208, ch. VIII) Richard’s small, personal, and internal triumph enlarged and enabled his soul, strengthening his resolve to remain true to himself. Richard’s differentness, even separateness, expressed itself in unique and often painful ways. When faced with the gnawing pain of severe hunger, Richard remained principled. “Even hunger had never driven me to appropriate to what was not my own.
The mere idea of stealing had been repugnant. ” (235, ch. X) Reading “grew into a passion” (294, XIII), and from it, a fleeting, but recurring desire to write. “I had once tried to write, had once reveled in feeling, had let my crude imagination roam, but the impulse to dream had been slowly beaten out of me by experience. ” (294, XIII) Even sensual pleasures of life held larger lessons: “When I was through mopping, I would watch the never-ending crap games that went on in the lockers, but I could never become interested enough to participate.
Gambling had never appealed to me. I could not conceive of any game holding more risks than the life I was living. ” (233, ch. X) Richard Wright “never capitulate[s] to the dehumanizing norms of early twentieth-century Southern culture. ” (xi, Intro. ) An anonymous quote reads, “Talent is produced in solitude.. .Character in the stream of life. ” Richard Wright rose above the unfairness and degradation of his life experience to leave a legacy, expressed in both talent and character, that has immeasurable influence and application for life as we head into the next century.