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 religion. Richard has never believed in good for in Richard’s eyes god has never really helped him, but religion plays a major role in Granny’s life as she is an active member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.. Richard associates hunger with religion much of his life as it has always managed to get in the way of him and food; First with the priest and the chicken at a dinner when he was younger and now his grandmother restricted diet. This is just one more obstacle in his strive to end his hunger.
Richard from the young age when he first learned to count with the coal delivery man to well into his adult life has always had a hunger to become a writer. His search for knowledge is one of the main reasons why Richard says, “I dreamed of going north and writing books, novels”(pg.168). Richards aspirations of being a writer never die even though he gets so much criticism from his family as well as society for believing in his dreams. The North was a land of opportunity for Richard and he makes it his mission to make it there and become a writer. He wants to show that even though he is a black from the South he can still have a successful life. Richard goes and expresses his goal by saying, “I felt that I had to go somewhere and do something to redeem my being alive”(pg. 169). Accomplishing his dream would mean that all of his years of struggling with hunger and overcoming the oppression of the South was all worth it. He continues to pursue his passion, even after the white women that he worked for laughed at his aspirations and his community isolated him for his story in the paper. Richard refuses to give up and his perseverance is what allows him to make it to the North.
Much of the suffering during Richard’s youth was caused by the different forms of hunger he had to endure and the only thing keeping him going was the hope of moving North. Richard was successful in the way of pursuing his hunger for knowledge and writing, but when it came to his physical hunger, he could not sustain himself like millions of Americans portrayed in the documentary A Place at the Table directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush. Many of the children in America can relate to Richard’s struggle as today “1 in every 2 children at some point will be on food assistance”. This shows the growing hunger epidemic in the United States and how nothing has really changed since then and how the problems have continued to follow us into the present future. Unless individuals find a way to help effectively reduce the hunger problem, there will be a great loss of potential in future generations.