The “Black Boy” storyline finds its basis around the lives of the Wrights, a small black family exhibited as one living in poverty. As the plot begins, a young Wright Richard sets fire to his family home and in turn leaves the family in a worse state (Wright 6). The immediate aftermath of the fire is he receives a thorough beating from his mother. Later, His father leaves the family and his mother falls ill, an illness that later turns out to be chronic. With these factors in play, Wright shows an out of control tendency as a child such as when he becomes alcoholic before turning six years old (Wright 22). Without an authoritative figure in his life, by the time he is eleven, Wright begins working for the white people and something that consequently leads to his discovery of the racial segregation a matter to which he has been ignorant (Wright 70). It is here that his dream to move to the Northern States is hatched. Afterward, after hearing a fairytale (Wright 39), the boy becomes an ardent student, evidence to his determination to become a writer in future. After making his way to Memphis then Chicago, Wright continues to face problems related to poverty and racial segregation that is present even in the North (Wright 255). The Great Depression forces him to join the Communism party that according to him serves the oppressed and seeks for equality (Wright 231). This however, fails to help because of his outspoken nature that seems to be against the party’s plans. As the narration ends, Wright Richard turns back to his writing that seems to be his anchor to reality.
Donato’s narration focuses on the lives of immigrant Italians living in New York. The major theme relies on the cultural conflicts that face Paul, the lead character, and the rest of the Italian family consisting of seven other children. The poverty, in which the family lives become apparent, as Geremio Paul’s father, is the family’s sole breadwinner. With the death of Geremio (Donato 18) comes the first of Paul’s tribulations who at age twelve is the oldest male and is expected to look after the rest of the children and his mother. He first goes to the church for help (Donato 55) and witnesses the amount of food set before the priest. However, the priest denies him any help and instead sends him home with a small piece of strawberry shortcake that will barely cater for the hungry stomachs at home (Donato 58). Paul sees the rejection as one from God and not just the church consequently turning to Job. In the narration, Job refers to a six-story apartment (Donato 63) that later becomes Paul’s source of income. Readers become aware of his belief that God brought him to Job after the priest turned him away. After the work becomes too strenuous, Paul stops working and plunges the family back to hunger and poverty. In desperation, Paul and his mother seek a medium to communicate with her dead husband’s soul and ask for assistance. While at the medium, otherwise dubbed the Cripple, the two believe Geremio died a peaceful death, further cementing their belief in the powers of the same. His faith suffers more when his friend Luis declares that there is no God (Donato 140). Paul goes back to work at Job but is forced to leave when the Great Depression hits the country. However, it is apparent that Job is the only answer to his problems.
The first similarity between the two lies in the fact that are both part of a minority group when compared to the governing powers in both stories. In “Black Boy”, the majority are the whites who view the blacks as incompetent and in a lower status. In “Christ in Concrete”, the governing power is the church as evidenced by the dependency the characters exhibit towards religion and the wealth that the priests plunder. A good instance of this is seen when Wright asks, “how could one live in a world in which one’s mind and perceptions meant nothing and authority and tradition meant everything” (Wright 164) This is after he realizes the racial segregation that was evident in most parts of America. The traditions that governed the country lay in the fact that black people were slaves to the whites and the perceptions of the whites in consideration to the blacks will always be that they are beneath the former. In this case, the character is a minority to the white man. On the other hand, the theme of minority is evident in Paul’s encounter with the Priest. When the young boy tells his woes to the priest, no help come forth as the man of God simply replies asking “But tell me, what can I do? ” (Donato 59) While it an expectance for the priests to help their congregation, the attitude of this particular priest towards Paul shows a form of difference in class. The luxurious life he leads, gives clear evidence to this because while he has more than he can possibly eat, there is a family starving.
Both characters undergo major changes in their lives that in turn influence their ideologies about life and those that regard their families. When Wright’s father decides to leave his family (Wright 3), Wright seems to lose focus in life and starts working at a tender age. At the same time, Paul’s father dies in an accident at his workplace (Donato 18). This disrupts the young boy’s life as he stops being a child and rapidly assumes the role of an adult. The lack of a fatherly presence forces the lead characters to assume adult roles in their respective families. The degree to which this happens is however, different as while Wright becomes rebellious and fends for himself, Paul assumes the manly role in his family in a bid to help his mother cater for the other children. These similarities are the determinants of the boy’s futures that direct influences of work acquisitions.
It is safe to say that when the two central characters start working they understand life from a different perceptive. For starters, Paul working at Job leads to his views that “The Lord has listened to himThe Lord and his father worked with him to build it!” (Donato 71) While the priest had turned him away, working at Job seems to strengthen his faith in God and the idea that his father is indeed helping him, therefore answering the prayer he made in the church (Donato 55). With regard to Wright, working for the white man makes him aware of racism and is for the first time conscious of his skin color. For instance, Wright narrates an incident where a white woman asked, “You mean to stand there, nigger, and tell me that you live in Jackson and don’t know how to milk a cow? ” (148) To the already working child, this statement is among the many that originate from his black ethnicity. With time, Wright becomes aware of his African American descent and the fact that blacks are considered to be beneath the whites.
Religion is evident in both texts, with Paul depending on his belief in God and Wright showing indifference to the idea of God and worship. In “Christ in Concrete” Paul is seen praying in earnest with the words, “Here in the church of worship I kneel, my Lord. You have taken dear father away for your own needcan you not send him back, O Lord? " (Donato 55) This takes place before he goes in to see the priest and gives evidence to his predicament in providing for his mother and siblings. Wright’s family exhibits religion in “Black Boy” although the main character seems disinterested in the same. For instance, when thinking about religion Wright states that, “It would have been impossible for me to have told him how I felt about religion. I had not settled in my mind whether I believed in God or not; His existence or nonexistence never worried me” (Wright 115) This marks the biggest difference between the two characters and none of them changes their views throughout the separate narrations. The argument that religion does not playing any important roles in the eyes of the protagonists is concrete as the concepts failed to bring any changes in their lives. This is especially so as Wright remains indifferent and Paul’s prayers go unanswered.
Finally yet importantly, the effects of the Great Depression on the two characters are considerably different as one goes back to his old life and another makes a decision that considerably changes the path of his life. This is so with regard to Paul who crushes “the plaster man wooden cross’ in her presence” (367) the wooden cross in the text refers to a crucifix that his mother places in his hand after an accident at Job. The accident has claimed the life of Nazone, his godfather who only joined the workforce because of the previously mentioned Great Depression. Wright’s experience due to the Great Depression leads to him embracing of his old ideologies that revolve around writing. His adaptation of communism backfires when other members opt to disconnect him for their union. With these differences, it is a plausible assumption that Paul abandoned religion all together and the book “Black Boy” evidences Wright’s writing.
In conclusion, while there are difference and similarities between the two, they both seem to gain a new understanding in their ethno-religious concepts and in turn, their abandonment of the set ideologies. Though set in different backgrounds, same factors seem to affect the central characters, including family, religion, and matters of state that in this case is the depression. It is safe to make the argument that with the absent fathers the two protagonists have more in common. This is because as stated above, the absence of the fathers leads to both boys taking up responsibilities and characteristics that mould them into adulthood. The families also play important roles as their handling of the two come into play with their attitudes in life. Paul shows devotion to his family because they support him and Wright is violent as he protects himself from abusive relatives. Regardless of the identifiable different aspects between the two, similar themes are still evident.
DiDonato, Pietro. Christ in Concrete. New York: Signet classics, 1993. Print.
Wright, Richard. Black Boy . New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007. Print.