America of yesteryear was laden with prejudice whereby social mingling of races was prohibited, especially in the Southern states. There were signs everywhere which indicated facilities for white people and those for people of African descent. People form prejudices based on their lack of factual knowledge about a person or by ignoring the facts altogether. Prejudice was a fact of life, which was reinforced by violence and informal social pressure. This prompted a change of life for certain African-Americans, such as Richard Wright as portrayed in Black Boy as he searches for freedom.
The story focuses on a boy, Richard Wright, who rises to freedom through reading books. The narrative revolves around perseverance, prejudice, freedom and acceptance by giving the reader the chance to see the suffering and struggle of post-civil war African-Americans through the experiences of the boy determined to overcome the barriers in the society (Wright, 2009). Richard persevered to learn how to read in a society that discouraged African-Americans from reading in fear of a rebellion as knowledge imparts power to its acquirer. Further, the relationships Richard cultivates as he learns to accept the other people in the society amidst segregation lead him to freedom and out of prejudice.
Prejudice is apparent as Richard is denied access to a public library simply because of his skin color. He devices a plan for freedom into the library by using Mr. Falk’s library card, who white men refer to as “the Pope Lover”, to read H. L. Mencken’s books (Wright, 2009). The library card presents Richard with the realization that he will never be the same again as it enables him to read to freedom and a better life in the north. The writer notes that Richard was poor and the books were expensive thus making reading inaccessible to him, which would be a setback to attainment of freedom (Miller & Carbo, 1997).
In The Library Card, Richard generalizes his personal experiences to inform the public how the society functions (Wright, 2009). He uses the theme of alienation to stress prejudice and the quest for freedom by the affected. Richard is alienated both from his family and the community by white people and fellow blacks. He fears the image of his white grandmother, his mother’s beatings and tries hard to avoid his father. To confront prejudice and isolation, Richard decides to rebel by killing a kitten, burning down a house, and disobeying the authority who try to raise under strict moral rule.
Moreover, Richard uses dualism as imagery to emphasize prejudice. This is shown by his use of black and white, such as the witnessing a white man beat a black boy and his dreams of a white boat. There are however, white people who are not prejudiced, for instance Mr. Falk who is seen to shake Richard’s hand in front of everybody and ironically he is the one who hands Richard the card to freedom. Shaking hands is used as a show of respect and friendship as it was unheard of in the racial America. Further, to find freedom people, such as Richard’s mother use religion though Richard himself somehow denounces it (Wright, 2009).
Richard shows the level of humiliation people of color underwent in a white society and thus creates characters who try to seek dignity, autonomy and freedom even if it meant going to the North, where racial segregation was minimal. Freedom in contract to prejudice is gotten from books and religion, while prejudice is born out of premeditation and fear of the unknown. Freedom is realized at last when Richard manages to send his mother and brother up north from prejudice.