Friday, July 24, 2015

Richard Wright, Four-Year-Old Arsonist

One of the stops I made last week took me to the home of author Richard Wright's grandmother, a home that Wright spent a significant amount of time in as a child and young man.  

And, of course, I could only think of one thing while standing in the street to snap the photos I've posted here.  This is the very home (I was told) in which Wright set the curtains on fire while burning things in the room's coal-burning fireplace.  Those of you who have read Wright's Black Boy will remember the incident as Wright recounts it in the book's opening pages:
Now I was wondering just how the long fluffy white curtains would look if I lit a bunch of straws and held it under them.  Would I try it?  Sure.  I pulled several straws from the broom and held them to the fire until they blazed; I rushed to the window and brought the flame in touch with the hems of the curtains.  My brother shook his head.
He spoke too late.  Red circles were eating into the white cloth; then a flare of flame shot out.  Startled, I backed away.  The fire soared to the ceiling and I trembled with fright.  Soon a sheet of yellow lit the room.  I was terrified; I wanted to scream but was afraid.  I looked around for my brother; he was gone.  One half the room was now ablaze.   
Soon my mother would smell that smoke and see the fire and come and beat me.  I had done something wrong, something which I could not hide or deny.  Yes, I would run away and never come back.  I ran out of the kitchen and into the back yard.  Where could I go?  Yes, under the house!  Nobody would find me there...Anyway, it was all an accident; I had not really intended to set the house afire.  I had just wanted to see how the curtains would look when they burned.  And neither did it occur to me that I was hiding under a burning house."

Wright was, of course, "rescued."  But his mother beat him within an inch of his life, it seems, and the little boy was bedridden for a long time as a result of that beating.

Post #2,515

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