Black Boy Hunger
Literal hunger plays an important role in the story because it helps his determination of success become larger and larger. We see him talk about hunger, literally, more in the beginning of the story because that is when he is a young boy and he complains a lot more than when he is a teenager out of school. In a scene when he is living with his aunt and uncle he tells us, “I was afraid that somehow the biscuits might disappear during the night, while I was sleeping. I did not want to wake up in the morning, as I had so often in the past, feeling hungry and knowing that there was no food in the house.
So, surreptitiously, I took some of the biscuits from the platter and slipped them into my pocket, not to eat, but to keep as bulwark against any possible attack of hunger” (Wright 50). Before living at his aunt and uncle’s house he grows up having very little to no food at all when he is hungry, so he does not know what to expect when he starts living in a different house. I definitely feel sorry for him here because he has to be sneaky and take the bread because he is scared that he would not have anything to eat in the morning.
When one is young, food is a necessity for one’s body because you are growing so quickly. I think Richard’s hunger for food definitely contributes to his wanting to work because he knows that if he works, he would get money, which would then lead to having food and him being satisfied instead of having to hoard food. Richard also has the hunger to leave the place where he has been growing up in (the South) and to be free so he can start fresh somewhere new. Where he is at in life right now is not satisfying him and he wants more out of life. Richard also cares so much about his mother which makes him want to do omething better than what he is doing now. He sees other people, who have come from the North and wants to be where they are because he hears he can have a better life there. He lets us in on his struggle and says, “There were hours when hunger would make me weak, would make me sway while walking, would make my heart give a sudden wild spurt of beating that would shake my body and make me breathless; but the happiness of being free would lift me beyond hunger, would enable me to discipline the sensations of my body to the extent that I could temporarily forget” (127).
From this quote, I think Richard is finally realizing that if he keeps focusing on his hunger to live a better life and “be free” in the North then that would soon diminish his hunger for food for a while. He may be physically hungry, but he is mentally hungry for freedom and starting a new life. That kind of ambition that he has to be successful is what he is worried about more than anything that is going on in his life physically at that time. Richard is hungry for happiness, and what comes with success comes happiness, and I think that he is willing to risk just about anything in order to get to where he wants to be.
For that to happen, he knows he has to go to the “other world,” which is the North. There is a point in Richard’s life where he realizes that his literal hunger eventually transforms into his hunger for success: “But this new hunger baffled me, scared me, made me angry and insistent. Whenever I begged for food now my mother would pour me a cup of tea which would still the clamor in my stomach for a moment or two; but a little later I would feel hunger nudging my ribs, twisting my empty guts until they ached.
I would grow dizzy and my vision would dim. I became less active in my play, and for the first time in my life I had to pause and think of what was happening to me” (15). After having that feeling of hunger in his body, Richard knows that he has to do something about it. I think at this particular time, he begins his journey onto becoming a stronger person than how he was before. He knows that he cannot go on with this kind of lifestyle and he is the only one that can change it and make it better.
Even though he may still be oblivious to some other things going on around him, Richard knows what is important, which is his health because that is what really matters. He must then figure out what to do in order to get what he wants and how he is going to do it. You can definitely tell that Richard is a smart boy because he feels and thinks very differently than other kids his age. I think that other kids his age would not actually “pause and think” of what was actually happening to them like Richard does.
None of them would have the drive to do something about their “hunger”, which is why he is able to strive above his peers and begin his path to a successful life. The way that Richard uses the word “hunger” literally and metaphorically helps make his story so much more compelling. He gets to where he wants to be by making a lot of sacrifices throughout his life because without them he would not be able to get anywhere. His hunger to be successful in life is what drives him each and everyday to work harder so he can provide not only for himself, but for his family as well.