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Black Boy by and Go Tell It on the Mountain Explore the Impact of Familial Interactions on an Individual's Growth and the Discovery of His Unique Image

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Black Boy by and Go Tell It on the Mountain Explore the Impact of Familial Interactions on an Individual's Growth and the Discovery of His Unique Image

What do Jeffrey Dahmer, Kristi Yamaguchi, Richard Wright, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Fidel Castro have in common? Centuries ago, it was believed that the only commonality shared by these individuals was that of being human, therefore, their behavior, whether “normal” or “abnormal”, was regarded as a result of inherent and/or innate factors until approximately one hundred years ago, when a branch of science called psychology began to investigate other antecedents of human behavior. Psychologists learned that although human behavior varied with an individual’s personality, there are predominate learned indicators found in the individual’s psyche that not only disposed said behavior, but could alter it, as well. In other words, although Dahmer, Yamaguchi, Wright, Roosevelt, and Castro appear to have nothing in common, it is their response to environmental stimuli that shaped them into a serial killer, an Olympic athlete, an author, a humanitarian, and a world leader. One such stimulus that has, without argument, an enormous effect on the individual’s personality and his interactions with society is the learned behavior acquired through the parent-child relationship, as it is during that period of the individual’s life, primarily from birth to adolescence, that he undergoes emotional, social, cognitive, psychological, and physical maturation. In addition, it is the individual’s response to the familial stimuli that not only serve as the initial looking glass, through which he examines the world, but also the foundation from which his individual identity is formed, as well as the ammunition wielded to battle what he perceives as societal inconsistencies.

Both Richard Wright in Black Boy by and James Baldwin Go Tell it on the Mountain explore the impact of familial interactions on an individual’s growth and the discovery of his unique image. In both writings, Wright and Baldwin present families so espoused in tension and conflict that they dramatically influence the protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral development, which in turn affect their perspective of society and humanity, as a whole. In Black Boy, Richard’s complicated relationships with his parents, as well as other family members who assume a surrogate role in his life, centers upon two struggles: the desire for a concrete physical existence and the true understanding of the harsh elements of an environment in which he doesn’t understand. Those issues prevail in Go Tell it on the Mountain as John’s familial relationships cause him to question the complexities of a society in which he perceives love and hostility to go hand and hand, as do cruelty and kindness, and reward and punishment. It is through their texts that Wright and Baldwin demonstrate that learned behavior, as a product of both positive and negative childhood influences, are antecedents that shape an individual’s personality, that a child’s familial experiences, particularly those of the parent and son, are matured as his “characteristic ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.” (402)

In Wright’s autobiography, Richard is taught, from an early age, that violence is the only method for survival; hence his dependence on violence secures his physical existence. As Black Boy opens, a bored Richard resorts to playing with fire in response to his mother’s request of compliance. In turn, he sets the house afire and is severely beaten. He explains, “I was lashed so hard and long that I lost consciousness. I was beaten out of my senses and later I found myself in bed, screaming, determined to run away, tussling with my mother and father who were trying to keep me still” (Wright 7). This particular episode is crucial in Richard’s development in that it displays significant formative factors in his life: the power to survive and to maintain his own individuality. By going to the limits of brutality with Richard at such a young age, his mother releases in him a spirit that can not be broken as it could survive beyond the normal limits of human endurance. In addition, his mother’s efforts to make him comply with the standards set by pre-individualistic society failed in keeping Richard unconsciousness of his own individuality. Finally, it is important to note that although the beating in this specific instance is particularly savage, it is clear that violence is a necessity if Richard is to survive the harsh realities of the world. “Go to the store and buy those groceries. If those boys bother you, then fight” (Wright 6). By introducing violence at an early age, Richard is conditioned to rely upon it to deal with obstacles he faces. Furthermore, he considers violence as an acceptable vehicle to express his emotions such as anger and disapproval, and believes that it is normal for parents to beat their children, as he asks, “And did not all fathers, like my father, have

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