When Richard Wright was four years old, he accidentally burned down his grandparents' house. Fearing punishment, he hid under the burning house until his father, Nathan Wright, dragged him out. His mother, Ella Wright, beat him until he lost consciousness, and, for several days afterward, he was sick and delusional.
One morning, Richard and his brother were playing with a noisy stray kitten that awoke Nathan. Out of frustration, he demanded they drive it away or kill it, anything to keep it quiet. Resentful of Nathan's shouting, Richard resolved to take his order literally by killing the kitten. When he later threw the words back in Nathan's face, Richard felt that he had won his first triumph. Ella punished Richard by infusing him with shame and guilt and forcing him to bury the kitten alone that night.
Soon after, Nathan abandoned his family, and hunger became Richard's constant companion.
When he begged her for food, Ella reminded him that he no longer had a father, so Richard developed a bitter association between his father and hunger. When Ella sent Richard to the grocery store, some boys beat and robbed him. Ella sent him back, but the boys again robbed him. Ella sent him to the store a third time with a heavy stick. When the gang again tried to rob him, Richard beat them with his stick.
Ella took her sons to her job as cook for a white family. Richard resented watching the white family eat while he had to go hungry. He began peeping into a saloon a block away. The customers began to give him drinks and money in return for repeating various curse words. Over time, begging drinks became an obsession for Richard. His mother beat him to no avail, so she began leaving her...