Black Boy

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Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those around him; at six he was a "drunkard," hanging about taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common lot.

Black Boy is Richard Wright's powerful account of his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. It is at once an unashamed confession and a profound indictment—a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering.

Curriculet Details
179 Questions
126 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in 9th and 10th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining important historical context for Wright’s childhood in the segregated South, links to literary allusions mentioned in the text and explanations of literary elements such as motif and conflict. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about structure and literary devices like simile and metaphor. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to character development, Wright’s diction and tone, and the concept of ‘coming of age.’ This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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Chapter 1

This phrase from the Bible is an epigraph for the text. An epigraph introduces an important idea that will be revisited throughout the text. Here, that idea is the motif of hunger. Watch this video to learn more about what motifs are and why authors use them!  (This annotation contains a video)
Richard Wright grew up as the son of a sharecropper in the early 1900s in Mississippi. Use this link to learn more about what conditions were like for African American sharecroppers during this time:  (This annotation contains a link)
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Which of the following inferences best explains how children are treated in the Wright family? 
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Why is Richard afraid to scream about the fire? What does he think will happen?Answer in 2 sentences. 
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Which of the following best summarizes the past few pages? 
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Based on the context of the sentence, the word 'lashed' most nearly means that his parents 
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Make a prediction: How do you think this event will influence Richard's life going forward? Answer in 1 sentence.  
In the following pages, Wright uses multiple instances of personification to enhance his description. Use this video to brush up on your knowledge of personification before you start this section! (This annotation contains a video)
The Mississippi River from the city of Natchez.  (This annotation contains an image)
Crawfish are a type of shellfish that are popular in the South.  (This annotation contains an image)
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How does the tone of Wright's writing change after he survives his sickness? 
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Based on the context of this sentence, the phrase "mute regality" of the trees can best be understood to mean that the oaks are 
Tenements in the early 20th century  (This annotation contains an image)
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Based on Wright's description of his family's living situation and his father's job, what can you infer about his family's economic status? 
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Use experiences from your own childhood to answer this inference question. Richard knew his father did not actually want him to kill the kitten. Why does he do it anyway? What is he trying to accomplish? Answer in at least 2 sentences. 
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Based on the evidence in this paragraph, which of the following best illustrates how Richard feels towards his father? 
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Why did Richard's mother make him bury the kitten? What lesson was she trying to teach him? Answer in 1 sentence.  
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What idea constantly plagues Richard after their move to Memphis? 
When Richard says that he associated his father with his feelings of hunger, the reader starts to see that Richard is constantly referring to the idea of 'hunger' as something that does not only describe his feelings of not having enough food, but also feelings of loss and frustration and unsatisfied needs that he has in other parts of his life. Hunger is an important idea that will continually come up in this text. Keep your eye on it! 
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Why does Richard's mother refuse to let him come into the house until he goes to the store and buys the food? 
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Why do the boys fight Richard? Who wins? Explain in 1 sentence.  
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Which of the following inferences best explains how Richard's hunger influences him? 
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Which of the following best describes what Richard's fascination with the outhouses and the saloon illustrate about his character? 
A saloon is an old term for a bar or place to drink alcohol.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Which of the following best explains what this story illustrates about Wright's young life? 
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How old is Richard at this time? 
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What makes Richard first start thinking about race? Cite specific evidence in your answer. Answer in 2 sentences.  
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For what did Richard's mother punish him? 
Richard's interaction with this preacher was one of his first strong experiences with religion. In the future, he will develop a very negative view about religion as a result of this experience and many others. Keep this in mind as you read.  
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Based on the context of this sentence, the word 'spurned' most nearly means 
Richard's experience at the orphanage is not a positive one. Using the first two paragraphs in the resource below, think about whether or not Richard's bad experience at the orphanage is common or uncommon.  (This annotation contains a link)
An ink blotter is an old-fashioned tool that people used to make sure the ink didn't smudge when they wrote letters with ink pens.  
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What becomes clear about why Richard's father left their family? 
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How many years would go by before Richard saw his father again? 
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Citing evidence from the text, explain how Richard views his father when he sees him again many years later. Why does Richard Wright give the reader this flash forward?Answer in at least 2 sentences.  

Chapter 2

This is an example of a simile. Watch this video to refresh your memory about similes! (This annotation contains a video)
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In this paragraph, Richard says that because African Americans were not allowed to be part of American society, they 
Bluebeard and His Seven Wives is a famous tale about a wealthy man who murdered his wives. If you are interested, you can learn more about it here! (This annotation contains a link)
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Why doesn't Granny want Richard hearing the stories that Ella reads to him? 
Granny mentions the Devil often when talking about things that Richard does. Keep this in mind, as it will be extremely important to Granny's character development and Richard's problems with religion later.  
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How does Richard's first exposure to books impact his life? Cite a specific phrase or sentence from the text in your answer. Answer in 2 sentences.  
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Why did Richard's grandma beat him? 
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In the context of this sentence, the word 'nullify' most nearly means 
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What emotions does Richard feel toward his grandfather? 
In the last chapter, you reviewed the literary device of personification. The highlighted sentence is an example of personification because Wright is assigning a human characteristic (speaking) to an abstract idea (days and hours). If you didn't pick up on this right away, review personification again. Next time it comes up, there will be a question about it! 
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How is Richard starting to react to the natural world around him? 
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Here is a quote from the author Henry David Thoreau's famous text, Walden. “We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” In 2 sentences, compare or contrast Richard Wright's view of nature with Thoreau's.  
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Richard wants to understand how blacks and whites interacted and his mother 
When Richard describes how his grandmother looks white, he is referring to her 'passing as white.' 'Passing' is an important term that describes how African Americans could pass for white and receive better treatment as a result. African Americans who had lighter skin were often viewed as having higher status and were not discriminated against as much.  
Often, slave masters forced their slaves to have relations with them and give birth to children who were mixed-race. This often resulted in light-skinned children who were treated as slaves but were actually the child of the slave master. You can read more about these relationships here: (This annotation contains a link)
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Based on what Richard's mama says about the race of his grandmother and his father, it is clear that race is a complicated and often misunderstood issue. Make a text-to-text connection to another book that you have read that discusses issues of race and identity.  
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Where are Richard and his family living now? 
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Why did Richard steal the biscuits and hide them? 
Horse and buggies were the primary mode of transportation before cars became commonplace. This is what they look like. (This annotation contains an image)
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Why does Richard say that he never trusted his uncle again? 
Though this is the first time a member of Richard's family has been killed by whites, Richard says that he is more scared than sad. This fear is an important idea that will continually reappear in this book. Remember, good readers are constantly tracking recurring ideas as they proceed through the text.  
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Based on your knowledge of history and using the knowledge that Richard Wright was born in 1908, which war are these soldiers going to fight in? 
Here, Richard is describing the prisoners working in a chain gang as animals. This is a picture of what a chain gang looked like during Richard Wright's time.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Richard Wright uses a metaphor to describe the prisoners as animals. Which of the following best explains why he does this? 
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Based on the evidence in this extended sentence, which of the following correctly identifies Granny's relationship with religion? 
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Which of the following best describes Richard's attitude toward their new living conditions? 
Situational irony is a literary device that makes the reader think about how a text surprises them or contradicts what they might expect. This song, and the way that the African American children treat the Jewish shop owner, are examples of situational irony. Watch this video to learn more about what situational irony is and why authors use it!  (This annotation contains a video)
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Make an inference here: What do you think is going on in the house next door? What evidence in the text led you to believe that?  
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Why does the landlady want Richard's mama to beat him? 
This is a place where, as a reader, I think to myself 'hmmm, what is going on?' Good readers constantly ask questions in their head and predict what is going to happen. What do you think is going on with their mysterious 'uncle'? 
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Why did Richard get a pet dog? 
Again, we see Wright return to the motif of fear here. Even from a young age, Richard had learned to fear whites.  
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Who comes to the house to ask about 'uncle'?  
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Why is Richard trying to sell his dog, Betsy? 
In 1916, when Richard was 8 years old, a dollar was worth much more than it is now. Use this awesome website from the US Department of Labor to calculate how much a dollar in 1916 would be worth today.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Why do you think Richard refused to sell the dog for 97 cents? It was only 3 cents less. Why did it matter?  
Wright is listing many different superstitions here. Superstitions are beliefs that many people believe but are often untrue. Do you believe in these sayings? 
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Why does Wright tell the reader this story about the black woman whose husband was killed? 
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In your own words, explain what Wright means when he says that he had been 'the victim of a thousand lynchings." Answer in 1 sentence.  
As you read, always think about how the protagonist, Richard, is developing throughout the text. This page illustrates an important change in Richard's attitude toward education. Make sure to be thinking about that as this chapter continues.  
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Which of the following best summarizes Richard's experience at Christmas?  

Chapter 3

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Which of the following best describes how Richard is interacting with his friends now that he is getting older? 
Here, Richard Wright makes a commentary on the conversations he has with his friends, using very intentional diction and tone in order to communicate the tenor of their conversations. Use this link to learn more about diction and tone.  (This annotation contains a link)
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What are Richard and his friends' attitudes toward the North? 
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Here, there is a very clear division in town between the whites and the blacks. If the boys cross into unknown territory, they are beaten or stoned. Make a text-to-text connection to another text you have read where a city or country is extremely divided and explain how that text and this book are similar or different.  
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When Richard's mother told him to stop fighting, he 
As you are reading, imagine that you are in Richard's position here as a young child. That will help you understand the emotions and development that his character undergoes.  
Paralysis is a disease of the nervous system where a person's muscles stop working and they are unable to move.  
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Make an inference here: Why do you think Granny dictates her letters to Richard so that he can write them for her? 
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Why did Richard's uncle find him in the back yard? 
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Why does Richard feel out-of-place at Uncle Clark and Aunt Jody's? 
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When Wright describes the fight as 'a draw,' he means that  
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Why is Richard scared of his new bedroom? 
Again, Wright brings up the idea of fear here. As a reader, you should constantly be wondering why authors bring up ideas repeatedly and what their impact is in the text. Why do you think Wright constantly references his fear? 
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This sentence contains a metaphor which Wright uses to describe his emotions during this time of sleeplessness. Which of the following correctly identifies the metaphor? 
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Richard blames his filthy mouth on 
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Why are they taking Richard's mother to Clarksdale?  
See Clarksdale on the map below: (This annotation has embedded rich content)
Up until the 1960s, segregation between Blacks and whites was legal in the U.S. Often, restaurants, movie theaters, hospitals, and even water fountains were separated by race.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What did Richard feel that his mother's illness was a symbol for? 
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Often, Wright will use the experiences from his childhood as examples and then fast-forward to later in his life in order to explain how those events impacted him. Why does he make these choices as an author? How does it impact the reader?  

Chapter 4

Seventh-Day Adventists are a conservative sect of Christianity who believe that the only way to be saved is to strictly follow the rules of the church.  
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Why did Richard teach himself to drink a lot of water? 
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Finish this sentence: Granny says that if she is going to feed Richard, she expects that he_______________________. 
Walnuts are a specific type of nut that you can crack and eat the inside of. Why do you think Richard was so frustrated when Addie accused him of dropping the shells on the floor? Think about how you feel when someone accuses you of something you didn't do.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Which of the following best describes the relationship between Aunt Addie and Richard? 
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Which type of figurative language is present in the highlighted portion of this sentence? 
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Make a prediction: What do you think Grandpa is going to do to Richard? 
Pop the whip is a game where the boys fling a stick or whip in order to make a loud sound. They chase each other around trying to avoid the whip. 
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Based on this sentence, what do you think is Richard's attitude toward God and religion? 
Richard describes that he is attracted to the church elder's wife. He says that he imagines himself looking like a black imp - a devil-like creature with horns and a tail.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Why is the family worried about Richard? 
Richard's ideas about religion and his place in the world continually come up as you read. Remember to track these as you progress; they will be very important for Richard's development as a character and his transformation in his coming of age.  
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The phrase "I would burn forever in the lake of fire" is best described as an example of which literary device?  
You just answered a question about hyperbole, the literary device of exaggeration. Wright uses it again in this highlighted sentence. Learn more about hyperbole and why authors use it by watching this video!  (This annotation contains a video)
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Why do you think Granny was so excited when she thought that Richard said he saw an angel? Answer in 1 sentence.  
Wright describes his grandmother in this way in order to communicate how hard it was for him to disappoint her by failing to see the power of religion. Remember, we are seeing this story unfold from the perspective of the author and must always keep in mind that his descriptions represent his point of view, which is not necessarily always what the truth truly looked like.  
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Which of the following best describes the first thing that Richard writes? 

Chapter 5

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Why did Addie and Granny give up on Richard? 
When the boys yell "straw katy" at Richard, they are teasing him about the straw hat that he wears. This taunting clearly affects Richard and upsets him. As you read this, a good reader would make a prediction about what is going to happen as a result of this teasing. What do you think? 
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Richard has gotten into multiple fights throughout the course of the book. Which of the following best summarizes why all of these fights have occured? 
The image below illustrates what a Black school would have looked like during Richard Wright's childhood. Based on this image, it is easy to imagine why Richard would not have had many goals for his future in education. Education was not a priority for many Blacks during this time because there were few opportunities for college or jobs that paid highly for educated Blacks.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What does the tall boy suggest that Richard do to satisfy the problem that he describes? 
Remember, Richard said that the paper was intended for white readers, but he is selling it to African American neighbors who buy it from him because they like him, but not because they want to read it. This is an important idea to keep track of! 
The image in the newspaper is a racist political cartoon intended to make a commentary on the role of African Americans in society. Below is an example of a similar cartoon from the time period:  (This annotation contains an image)
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What kind of newspapers is Richard selling? 
It is important to note that Richard is extremely embarrassed by this experience. This shows the reader an important aspect of Richard's character development: he is deeply aware of his race and wants to fight against inequality.  
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Aunt Addie assumes that Richard tried to kill Granny because she dislikes Richard. She does not even wait to hear his side of the story. Explain, in one sentence, a time that you were accused for something that you did not do.  
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What does Richard sleep with under his pillow at night and why? 
Brother Mance cannot read or write, so he hires Richard to do that for him. Though fewer people are illiterate today, 14% of the population of the United States is illiterate. Find out how many people in the U.S. cannot read or write in the second paragraph of this article from the Huffington Post:  (This annotation contains a link)
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When Wright writes that he "lived on what I did not eat" his language here can best be inferred to mean 
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What is a pension? 
Double click on this word "pension" in order to learn, from the definition, what a pension is. Read carefully, you'll be tested on it soon! 
As you are reading about Grandpa's struggles, think to yourself - why is he so saddened by this? Why is it such a disrespect for him to not be given his rightful pension? 
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Which of the following answers best explains the function of the sentence "His voice died"? 
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What happened to Grandpa? 
Today, children are required by law to go to school until they are sixteen years old. However, when Richard was growing up, that law did not exist. What do you think - do you agree or disagree that students should be required by law to attend school? 
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Even though Addie and Granny hated Richard, why was his mother proud of him? Answer in 1 sentence.  

Chapter 6

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Which of the following inferences, based on historical context, best explains why the woman asked Richard if he stole? 
As you are reading, it is extremely important to remember that Wright wrote this book to be an accurate portrayal of white attitudes towards African Americans in the early 20th century. He uses language that is meant to portray the racial issues of the time, but the language is still extremely offensive and should not be used today. 
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Why does the woman think that Richard can never be a writer? 
When Richard says that he faced a wall in the woman's mind, he means that she had a block in her mind that did not allow her to understand Africans or treat them as equals. Do you think this 'wall' still exists today for other groups, such as same-sex couples? If you answered 'no' in your head, glance at the article below to see if that changes you mind:  (This annotation contains a link)
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The highlighted sentences are an example of the literary device irony. If you need to brush up on irony, do a quick Google search and then answer this question. Why is it ironic that Richard is offended by their cursing?  
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Which of the following best describes why Richard keeps working with this family, even though he dislikes them? 
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Why was Richard attracted by the idea of being a part of a community? 
The highlighted sentence has an awesome example of a simile. Click on the link below to watch a video about how often singers use similes in their songs to liven up the images they create.  (This annotation contains a video)
In Southern churches, such as Richard's, baptisms are an extremely important and momentous event. They often involve dunking someone in a large pool or river, as shown in the image below.  (This annotation contains an image)
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The church is forcing Richard to 
It is important to pay attention to how Richard Wright structures this book. He often flashes back to earlier points of his life in order to draw connections between emotions that he commonly experiences. As you read, make sure that you pay attention to when he switches time periods in his writing.  
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Why was Uncle Tom upset at Richard? 
When his uncle tells Richard that he will end on the gallows, he is implying that he will not get far in his life because of his rebelliousness. Below is a picture of a gallows, a device used to publicly hang people who broke laws or important rules.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Do you think Richard was right for standing up for himself and saying those things to his uncle? Why? Answer in 2 sentences 

Chapter 7

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Which of the following central motifs is reiterated at the start of this chapter? 
Can a dog develop racist tendencies? Find the answer in this article from Gawker  (This annotation contains a link)
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How does the boss' response represent what he thinks about the differences between blacks and whites? Use a specific piece of evidence from the text to support your answer.  
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How does Richard's attitude toward the world change as he gets older? 
Before modern-day printers were invented, printing books was a very labor-intensive process. Watch this really interesting video to learn how books and newspapers were printed in the early 1900s. (This annotation contains a video)
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What happens when the editor tells Richard that he is not going to pay him for the story? 
Even though Richard and his classmates never learned about African American writers, during this time, there were many Black writers living in Harlem. These men and women were participating in something that would later be called the Harlem Renaissance. This was a very important time for the growth of African American art, music, and writing. Explore this website to learn more about this explosion of creativity in New York City.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Why is Granny upset about Richard's story? Use specific evidence from the text to illustrate how she describes his story.  
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What was the overwhelming reaction to Richard's story? 
Mini Quiz # 1 
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Wright uses a train metaphor to describe his life. Explain what the metaphor means and why Wright uses it in at least 2 sentences.  

Chapter 8

As you can see from the diagram below, the saw blades at sawmills were extremely large and dangerous. They could chop off limbs easily if the person sawing the wood was not extremely careful.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Make an inference here: why do you think the white people killed Bob? Was this a common event? 
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How does Uncle Tom feel about Richard? 
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Which of the following best describes why the principal wrote Richard's speech for him? 
Wright says that the principal was "tempting me, baiting me" in order to get him to follow his instructions. Based on what you have read about Richard, do you think that he will give in to the principal's orders? 
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Finish this sentence. If Richard gives the speech that the principal wrote, he can go on to be a teacher; if Richard gives the one that he wrote, he _____________________. 
Richard's clash with the principal illustrates an instance of both external and internal conflict. Watch the video below to learn more about the types of conflict that commonly appear in literature.  (This annotation contains a video)
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Richard graduated from ninth grade at the age of 17. Based on this fact, what can you conclude about Richard's educational experience?  

Chapter 9

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Which of the following answers best explains what happens between the boss, his son, and the Black woman in the store? 
The running board of a car is a piece of metal that runs along the bottom of the car. In the image below, you can see a woman standing on the running board.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Why did the men throw the bottle at Richard? Use specific evidence from the text to answer this question.  
In this chapter, Wright is telling the reader stories in order to illustrate multiple examples of the discrimination he experienced. Below is a link to a video about Rodney King, a Black man from L.A. who was beaten by police after being pulled over in 1991. Watch this video carefully, as you will answer a question that asks you to compare these events in a few pages.  (This annotation contains a video)
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Based on these stories and the video that you watched earlier about Rodney King, which of the following conclusions can be logically drawn from that information? 
The plague that Wright speaks of is not what we usually think of when we see the word 'plague.' Instead, he is referring to the racism and discrimination in the South as a plague because it kills the freedom and indviduality of the people it oppresses.  
Make sure to define this word! It is important to always look up words that you do not know as you read. 
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Where does Richard start working in this part of the story? 
Why is it surprising that the other men at the optical shop are treating him this way? It is important to remember that the man who owns the shop is from the North and respects African Americans. However, it is clear that his other employees do not feel the same way.  
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Why do you think Richard refuses to report this treatment to Mr. Crane? What does this illustrate about Richard's character? 
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When Richard calls him "Pease" and not "Mister Pease," this creates an issue because  
When Griggs asks Richard "Won't you ever learn?" he means that Richard needs to learn his place in the world of the white man; he needs to learn how to act. In the 1920s, it was extremely common for Black men in the South to be beaten or even lynched for speaking back to white men. The map below shows the number of lynchings per state during this time period. Only six states were completely free of lynchings.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Often, teenagers use hyperbole when they say "Oh my gosh, my mom is going to kill me." In this highlighted quote, is Wright using hyperbole or is his statement realistic? Be sure to explain your answer thoroughly.  
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Which of the following answers best explains the purpose of the figurative language in the last sentence?  

Chapter 10

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When Richard says that he "lived carrying a huge wound" what does he mean? 
Throughout this book, Richard has changed jobs many times, primarily because he is not educationally qualified to hold a high-status job. His experiences are very common - people who have fewer years of education make much less over their lifetime. The bar graph below shows just how much more money a person earns in their lifetime with college and post-college education.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Richard says that even though the promise of America and the American Dream is based on a theory of equality, blacks know that 
Gambling was illegal in this part of the 20th century, and so games like crap or poker were often carried out in back rooms or basements, where the police would not find them.  
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Why was Richard upset at the girl? 
African Americans were often forced to endure terrible conditions in the workplace. Today, it is very common for workers to organize unions when this occurs, but during that time, jobs were considered too precious to jeopardize with protests. The image below shows workers protesting conditions at Wal-Mart.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What does Richard Wright mean when he says that whites would rather have blacks who stole and lied than blacks who knew "the worth of their own humanity"? 
"Bootlegging" is a term that describes how liquor was traded during the Prohibition Era when alcohol was illegal. Click on the link below and read the first paragraph to learn more about Prohibition and why bootlegging was so profitable.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Richard knows he is about to steal. Yet he feels no guilt. Why does Richard feel that he is justified in stealing from this white man? Answer in one sentence. 
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Which of the following best describes their plan to make money at the movie theater? 
Wright states that because he was dealing with 'cagey' people, he would be 'cagey' as well. Do you agree with his decision? Is it morally acceptable to break rules if the people around you are doing the same thing? 
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Richard Wright feels like his life is just starting now, even though he has already lived for almost 20 years? Why did Wright include the first ten chapters of this book if he believes that his life is just starting now? Explain in two sentences.  

Chapter 11

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Why did Richard decide to go to Memphis? 
For Richard, Beale Street in Memphis, a run-down section of town known for its music and its African American population, would have seemed very urban compared to many of the places he had lived in his early life in Mississippi. Below is a picture of Beale Street in the 1920s.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Which of the following best describes how Richard feels upon arriving in Memphis? 
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Why does Mrs. Moss want to convince her daughter to date Richard? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.  
Richard is very used to people treating him poorly and assuming the worst of his intentions. Here, when Mrs. Moss sees the good in him, he is confused and surprised. This confusion is an important part of Wright's coming of age transformation. This transition, a common topic of literature, "focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, and wherein character change therefore is extremely important." As you can see here, Richard is undergoing this change.  
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Based on this paragraph, what did Mrs. Moss and Bess teach Richard? 
Yet again, Richard is extremely embarrassed by his appetite. As you read, remember to constantly ask yourself questions in your head. Here, you might ask, "which motif does this situation relate to?" 
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Wright uses the word "simplicity" in this sentence in order to convey 
For a girl like Bess, marrying such an educated man like Richard would be a step up for her in life. This might explain why she was so interested in him.  
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Richard's exchange about love with Bess most closely illustrates what about the two of them? 
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What did Richard and the boy find in the weeds and what do they want to do with it? Answer in one sentence. 
Remember what you read earlier about Prohibition and bootlegging. The alcohol was hidden in the weeds because it was illegal to sell or distribute alcohol during this time period.  
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Based on the context of this sentence, the word "naive" most nearly means 

Chapter 12

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Based on the highlighted sentence, which of the following conclusions is best supported by the evidence presented? 
When Mrs. Moss says that Richard should "try Bess and see if you like her" she is describing Bess as if she were an item of clothing. This illustrates that Mrs. Moss does not view her daughter as an individual, but as more of an object to be bought and sold.  
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Why is Richard so focused on saving money? 
When Shorty plays the role of the clown, he is imitating the roles of Blacks popularized by minstrel shows. In these shows, white comedians would put on 'black face' and mimic African American accents and conversations. Below is a poster from a minstrel show that was popular in the early 20th century.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Why does Wright state that he feels "no anger or hatred, only disgust and loathing" towards Shorty's acts around whites? 
Like Richard, Shorty's dream is also to move North from Memphis, to a place where there are more opportunities for African Americans. In the map below, you can see how many Blacks left the South for a better future in the North. They journeyed to many cities to the north, from Chicago to New York, in search of a better life.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Why would Richard refuse to take the money from the man, even when he is extremely hungry? Use your understanding of Richard's character in order to answer this question.  
During this time period, it was extremely common for white men to call African Americans 'boy,' regardless of their age or status. It is an extremely degrading and demeaning term.  
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When Mr. Olin says that Richard "acts like a good boy" he most probably means that 
This is an extremely important detail in this story. As readers, it is important to note this conversation, as it will play an important role in the way that this story unfolds.  
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When Wright implies that Black men are like dogs or cocks to whites, he uses this discription in order to illustrate 
In the South at this time, segregation and white dominance were asserted through the power of the Jim Crow laws. These laws regulated the freedom of Blacks, down to small and seemingly inconsequential daily tasks. The link below shows that even something as small as a checkers game was controlled by these racist rules of the land.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Harrison's temptation to fight for the money versus Richard's refusal to play into the white men's game illustrates what about the two characters? 
Again, the reader sees Wright using these comparisons to non-human things, such as animals, in order to illustrate the way in which whites treated and characterized African Americans during this time. Below, a political cartoon warns readers about what might happen if Blacks are allowed to gain too much political power.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Based on Richard's reflections on this event, which of the following phrases most directly characterizes his emotions about what has happened? 

Chapter 13

H.L. Mencken was an outspoken critic of America during the 1920s and often criticized the U.S. in articles and satirical essays. He was also an extremely important influence in Richard Wright's life. Learn more about H.L. Mencken and his life in this Encyclopedia Britannica entry:  (This annotation contains a link)
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What is Richard going to ask this Irish Catholic man to do? 
In order to check out books from the library, the white man had to write a note saying that Richard was checking out books for him. He had to do this because it was illegal for Blacks to check out books from the library during the Segregation era. 
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Why does Richard tell the librarian that he cannot read? 
This is one of the single-most important parts of Richard's coming-of-age. His realization here will impact the rest of his life and is the reason that we read Richard Wright today. Think critically about his words - you'll answer a question about them soon.  
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The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets." Based on what you have just read about Wright's experience with books, would he agree or disagree? Why? Answer in at least two sentences.  
Because Richard had only had a few years of consecutive schooling, he had never properly learned how to read and write. This was extremely common in the South during this time - whites felt that if Blacks were not allowed to learn to read or write (or given the opportunity), they would be less likely to rise up and fight their circumstances. 
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Why are whites threatened by Black southerners who are trying to emigrate to the North? 

Chapter 14

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Why does Richard feel that he has to lie about his reasons for leaving? What experiences from his past might encourage him to hide the truth? Answer in at least two sentences.  
Though Richard hoped that the North would bring him more opportunities and less discrimination, that was not always true for Blacks who migrated to northern cities. An excerpt from a history program called "The Making of a Nation" states: "Black Americans left the South because life was hard, economic chances few, and white hatred common. But many blacks arrived in other parts of the country only to learn that life was no easier. Some blacks wrote later that they had only traded the open racism of the rural Southeast for the more secret racism of Northern cities." 
Mini Quiz # 2 
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What is the "terror" that Richard is fleeing from? 

Chapter 15

In his description of Chicago, Wright uses imagery in order to paint a picture of this city in the reader's mind. Watch this video to learn more about what imagery is and why authors use it. (This annotation contains a video)
Richard Wright's description of Chicago paints a vivid picture of the city. Read this poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg and, as you read, consider the way in which the two authors describe this bustling metropolis. Read carefully, as you will answer a question about it in the next few pages.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Which of the following best explains the primary similarity or difference between Sandburg's poem and Wright's description of the city? 
Notice here that Wright uses parentheses at the start of each paragraph. Why do you think he does this? What are their purposes?  
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Which of the following best explains the rhetorical impact of Wright's use of parentheses in this chapter?  
In Wright's attempt to recreate the Hoffmans' accents, he uses language and dialogue that may seem insensitive. However, he does this in order to create a vivid image and sound in the reader's mind, not to offend his reader. 
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Why is Richard so upset by the Hoffmans' attitudes toward him? 
Because white poverty was uncommon in the South during Richard's childhood, meeting poor whites in Chicago was a new experience for him. The chart below shows how poverty by race has changed over the last 55 years.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Why does Richard believe their is an important difference between African Americans who have faced struggle and these white waitresses in the cafe? What makes them so different? Explain in at least one sentence.  
In this paragraph, you can see Wright use a technique that he often employs throughout this text. By having the protagonist wonder aloud about his inner thoughts, this helps the reader understand the character's internal thoughts and dilemmas.  
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Why does Richard feel guilty when he tells on Tillie for spitting in the food? 
Stephan Crane's novel, The Red Badge of Courage, tells the story of a young man fighting in the Civil War who runs away from battle. Just as Richard left the South, this boy feels guilty about abandoning his comrades in the middle of the war. Watch this video summary and see if you can find other connections between Richard and the protagonist of Crane's novel.  (This annotation contains a video)
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In this paragraph, Wright equates other people chasing material goods to  
While the young Richard, in the first half of this memoir, was extremely angry and frustrated with the unfair structure of society, he now says that he no longer feels 'hostility toward the system of rules.' This is an important change in the character to take note of. Watch this video in order to learn more about characters evolve over the course of a text.  (This annotation contains a video)
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Using an example from earlier in the book, describe whether or not you think that Richard has changed over the course of the text. Answer in at least two sentences.  

Chapter 16

The Black Belt is a portion of the American South that is extremely poor, undereducated, and lacking important resources. Read the link below to learn why Wright felt the need to draw attention to the "dwellers of the Black Belt."  (This annotation contains a link)
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Why does Richard describe this as his 'cynical period'?  
The Stock Market Crash of 1929 resulted in the Great Depression - one of the darkest times in our nation's history. This newspaper illustrates the panic that engulfed the nation during this time.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Though Wright mentions the Great Depression in passing, he does not continually discuss it by name. Why do you think he does not consider this great poverty of the country to be surprising?  
Wright describes how he would have romantic relationships with some of the poor women to whom he sold insurance. It is important to notice that while he mentions taking advantage of these poor Blacks, he continues to do his job. He does not realize that people did the same to him when he and his family were poor and living in Mississippi.  
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Which of the following descriptions best illustrate Richard's feelings toward this girl? 
"The clap" is a slang name for the STD Gonorrhea. These diseases were extremely common among poor and uneducated people in the early part of the 20th century. They could not afford doctors and often did not have the education to identify their disease.  
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What does Richard do when he realizes that his job is unethical and immoral? 
Communism is a political belief system that played an important role in Richard Wright's development. Read the link below in order to learn more about what the core beliefs of communism state. As you are reading, look for at least two beliefs of communism that you think Richard Wright would have found interesting and attractive in his fight for racial equality.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Over the course of this chapter, Wright spends a large number of pages discussing  
During the Great Depression, men would often stand in bread lines for an entire day in the hopes of getting a small amount of food for their family.  (This annotation contains an image)

Chapter 17

During Richard Wright's time, an important literary movement developed called 'naturalism.' This movement believed that an individual was entirely influenced by his environment and had little control over his destiny. Skim through this link to learn more about naturalism and keep thinking about how it applies to Black Boy - there will be a question about it in a few pages.  (This annotation contains a link)
Bill's idea sounds shockingly like the movie, The Purge. What do you think? Would it work? 
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Remember, authors never do anything in their writing without purpose. Richard Wright includes this story as a symbol - it represents something larger than just a story of dogs. What does this story represent? Why does he include it? Answer in at least two sentences.  
Throughout the text, there is not one clear antagonist. While Wright describes scenes such as this one, where it seems a character is working against him, the antagonist changes frequently throughout the text. Watch this video to learn more about the protagonist and antagonist roles in novels.  (This annotation contains a video)
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The phrase "fuming like children over trifles" is best analyzed as 
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Why are Brand and Cooke fighting? 
Again, Wright uses figurative language here, when he says that they were "as remote from the meaning of the experiments as if we lived in the moon." He uses this language to impress upon the reader how separate Blacks and whites were during this time.  
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Wright uses an extended comparison here in order to show how 

Chapter 18

The Loop in Chicago is a downtown, centralized area where many of the protests and demonstrations took place.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Why is Richard skeptical of these people? 
The magazine that Richard is reading, The Masses, was an extremely controversial and inflammatory paper. Below is an example of one of its covers from 1915.  (This annotation contains an image)
While Richard is describing how the magazine's images are symbolic, this is a perfect time to learn more about symbolism in literature. Watch this video to find out what symbols are and why authors use them.  (This annotation contains a video)
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Based on the highlighted line, Wright's greatest concern about the Negro Communist movement is that  
Though Richard is attempting to lead this branch of the Communist party, he is struggling because he has very little leadership experience. It is important to note that though Richard wants to be a leader, he does not have the experience to do so successfully.  
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What is Young's role in the organization? 
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Based on this letter, what can you conclude about Young and where he was living before he came to Chicago? 

Chapter 19

'Comrade' was a common greeting used in the Communist party.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Why is Richard surprised that his fellow Communists call him an intellectual? 
Wright's Communist party is extremely worried about loyalty, because they need to be sure that the members of the party will not turn them over to the government. Ten years later, after this conversation, Communists in America were put under surveillance by the U.S. government and then outed in something called "The Red Scare." Follow this link to learn more about how the fear of Communism resulted in the execution of individuals who were believed to be Communist sympathizers.  (This annotation contains a link)
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Why is Wright interested in Stalin's book?  
Ed Green is skeptical of Wright's actions and his collection of data about Ross. This is important, as it is becoming clear that Richard is viewed with concern by many members of the party.  
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Why does Richard feel the need to tell, in writing, the stories of Ross and Ed Green? Use evidence from the text in your answer.  
Richard is spending time with these young boys in the hopes of uniting them in a fight against Black oppression. Why do you think he chooses young, homeless, 'culturally lost' boys instead of those from stable homes? 
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In the highlighted sentence, what does the word 'dissolve' most nearly mean? 
Even though Richard's Communist party was focused on American issues, Communism across the world was spreading. Below is a map that shows all communist and socialist countries (in red) after World War II.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What was Richard most surprised at with his first view of New York City? 
In the 1930s, Harlem was a booming, bustling cultural center, full of famous writers, singers, artists, and other well-respected members of society.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Which of the following statements best summarizes Richard's realizations after his trip to New York? 
The Kremlin is the most important building in Russia (at this time, the Soviet Union). It houses the head of the state, all important business and is extremely symbolic, just as the White House is in America. This illustrates the importance of Buddy Nealson because he was invited there to speak.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Agree or disagree with the following statement and explain why: Richard Wright does not truly believe in Communist policies, he simply is looking for a way to help Blacks raise their voices for equality.  
The cost of living describes how much money a person has to spend to be able to live in a place. For example, San Francisco has the highest cost of living in the United States, whereas a city like Jackson, Mississippi has a low cost of living.  
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When Nealson tells Richard that 'the party has decided that you are to accept the task', he means 
Richard Wright has only lived in the Deep South and Chicago his entire life. Traveling to Switzerland would be a momentous trip.  
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Do you agree with Wright's decision to separate himself from the Communist Party? Why or why not? Answer in at least 2 sentences.  
When the men say that no one can resign from the Communist party, they are telling Richard that if he wants to leave, he will risk his life in doing so.  
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Why is Richard finally feeling happy here? 
An 'Uncle Tom' is a derogatory term used by Blacks against other Blacks who they believe are working for, or loyal to, the white man. It was coined after the publication of an influential text called "Uncle Tom's Cabin."  (This annotation contains an image)
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When Wright criticizes the Communist party for spending all of its time on witch hunts, what does he mean? 
This is an extremely important sentence because it illustrates how Richard's view of the world is changing. He no longer sees things as only black and white; now he also sees the issues of inequality and struggle that exist outside of race.  
During Wright's time, the South Side of Chicago was primarily African American and was blighted by poverty and violence. As you can see in the map below, that still remains true to this day.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Wright uses figurative language in this highlighted sentence in order to  
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When Wright uses the phrase "black blindness" what does he mean? What is he describing about these men? 

Chapter 20

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Based on the information given, which of the following inferences best explains why Richard's job is in danger? 
Wright is extremely offended that he is called a "Trotskyite." Leon Trotsky was communist philosopher, but he advocated for a worldwide communist revolution and his ideas were viewed as overly aggressive and violent.  (This annotation contains a link)
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When Wright describes his mind as an ulcer, this comparison can best be analyzed as 
May Day is a popular day for protests and often students and workers use this day to protest for many different causes. Below is a poster for a May Day protest in Chicago in 2012 for the Occupy movement.  (This annotation contains an image)
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The highlighted sentence, part of the song sung by the protestors, best connects to which of the following motifs found in this text? 
Here, in the last few pages of the text, the reader sees Wright fully forming important themes in this text. Watch this video to learn about how writers unveil their themes across the course of a text.  (This annotation contains a video)
Mini Quiz # 3 
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In your own words, explain the call to action that Wright is giving the reader here in this last paragraph. What is he telling us that we need to do? Answer in at least two sentences.