The Hunger that Follows
Richard Wright sends his reader on a journey through the memories of his past and the struggles he endured in his memoir Black Boy. In this detailed recollection of his life, Richard discusses the challenges he faced while living in the South and how he managed to overcome these obstacles on his journey to becoming a successful writer. It is only fitting then that the subtitle of the book be American Hunger as much of Richard’s life is consumed with hunger both literally and metaphorically and only becomes more prominent as he begins to discover the world around him. Although Richard has found ways to improve his hunger for food and the hunger to become a writer, ultimately, he is unsatisfied and feels that the only way to stop his hunger is to escape his life in the south.
Growing up in the poverty of the South left Richard many times living off of pennies and without food for days. Richard by the age of six had already become an alcoholic because when he went to the saloon he could fill his stomach with alcohol and quench his appetite. A year after this incident, Richard explains that, “Hunger was with us always”(pg.28). Richard associates hunger with his father as hunger continues to follow Richard throughout his adolescence from the moment his family fell apart and his mother was left to fend for herself and her children. Part of the reason Richard does not have enough food is because blacks in the South could not get high paying jobs like Ella, his mother, would need in order to support her family properly. Unfortunately for Richard, his mother ends up sending Richard and his brother to an orphanage until she can make more money to care for him. Richard reacts to the hunger by keeping busy to the point where he is so weak from hunger while pulling the grass from the orphanage yard that he begins to black out and hallucinate. At this point in his life hunger has consumed him and caused him so much pain that this scene only makes him stronger in the end.
When Richard decides to move out of his uncle Tom’s house and back with his grandmother, he is forced to follow a strict diet of mush and boiled greens. Richard tries to ignore his hunger by being active in order to forget the pain in his stomach and at one point Richard explains that he “would put my mouth under faucet and turn the water in full force and let the stream cascade into my stomach until it was tight. Sometimes my stomach ached, but I felt full for a moment” (pg. 103). At fourteen, hunger is not only caused by the prejudice society, he lives in but also by his Granny’s...