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The Fear of What We Don t Know

The main focus of Big Black Good Man is that people are intimidated by things that are different from them in some way. Richard Wright tells his story through the eyes of an old man who works at a tavern and is intimidated by the presence of a big black man named Jim. Olaf, a dynamic character, changes his point of view on black people by the end of the story. Although Olaf claims not to be prejudiced, he begins to realize that he has resentment toward black people.

The story begins describing Olaf as a happy-go-lucky man who enjoys his life and every aspect of it; wisps of blue smoke eddy from the corners of his wide thin lips (197). This selection gives me the mental picture of an old man of small stature and a frail frame. It reminds me of a childhood neighbor who had the same type of thin lips that Olaf has. This little old man smoked, too. The story depicts Jim, on the other hand, describing Jim s bodily features with words like, His chest bulged like a barrel; his rocklike and humped shoulders hinted of mountain ridges; the stomach ballooned like a treating stone; and the legs were like telephone poles . (199). In reading this, I envisioned the black man who played in the movie The Green Mile. He has all the features that Wright described in the story. In comparing the black man to Olaf, the reader sees huge differences. Jim is described as being this big, healthy, strong, black man while Olaf is depicted as being a small, frail, puny, white man. Imagine what was going through Olaf s mind when he saw this massive black man walk through the door.

The vast differences in the two men make Olaf scared of Jim like his size and his appearance. Several comments support the fact that Olaf is scared of Jim: There was something about the man s intense blackness and ungainly bigness that frightened and insulted Olaf ( ). At various times, Olaf is hypnotized, mentally immobilized, and trapped in a nightmare ( ). Olaf s fear takes control toward the end causing him to soil himself. Olaf constantly refers to Jim as a giant. This makes me think that Olaf is not used to people much bigger than him coming around. Jim really frightens him because he was such a big person. If I were he, I would have been intimidated, too.

Olaf tries numerous times to dissuade us from the idea that he is prejudice. One such time is when Olaf is asked to find Jim a woman: Yet Olaf keeps repeating to her how big and black Jim is. Another indication of prejudice occurs when he dreams of Jim s ship sinking and a white shark devouring his tar like flesh. He then speaks of picturing the giant s bones as being jet black and shining (205). When Olaf first meets Jim, he comes to the conclusion in an instant that Jim is too big, too black ..and probably too violent to boot (199).

It is only when Jim brings Olaf six nylon shirts as a thank you that Olaf realizes that there is compassion in Jim s stare that he never before seen. This story goes along way to prove a very simple truth. People are judged everyday based on their size and the color of their skin. Physical features, hidden fears, and prejudice are factors in how we as a society look at things that are unknown to us. Most people do not realize that just as Olaf s fear of Jim is unfounded so also are their fears of people and things that are strange or different to them. With this story, Richard Wright takes a huge leap in the ongoing battle to open people s eyes to the silent racism that exists in the world today.


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