Working a summer job in the brickyard, Richard suffers a dog bite and fears infection. Luckily he does not fall ill as several co-workers have, for the boss laughs off his concern, claiming a dog bite “can’t hurt a nigger.” He starts eighth grade and although he is distressed not to have learned anything relevant for working in the outside world, he writes a short story called “The Voo-Doo of Hell’s Half Acre.” Mocked both by his peers and his own family, none of whom understand why he would write just to write, Richard finds understanding in the newspaper editor alone who prints his work in three parts. He dreams of going north to publish stories, acknowledging that although at fifteen he is well behind the average youth as far as schooling, he is far ahead in his racial consciousness.
Richard’s escape into his writing illustrates the level of his isolation from his family. His dream of moving north is beginning to seem possible as he demonstrates his talent with his first published story. However, his disparagement by both the white and black communities suggests that many in his place would become too discouraged to pursue their passion. While his white boss’s contempt for his writing is predictable and fits the societal norms of the time, it is disappointing on another level that Richard receives no encouragement from within the black community. His autobiography criticizes this dimension of hostility turned inward, as his family members, neighbors, classmates and teachers all share similar frustrations in the outside world. Rather than banding together to confront racism constructively, they seem to reproduce the hateful and limiting structures they encounter in the “white world,” making Richard’s success more, rather than less, difficult. While his experience may not represent all black boys coming of age in the South, it is nevertheless a powerful indictment of the forces at play during this time period, and reveals the complexities of forming human relationships having been born in a particularly abusive family that established for him a pattern of isolation from blacks and whites alike.