“Black Boy” begins with an unnamed narrator remembering an accident she had when she was about 10 or 12 years old and living with her grandfather in a seaside city. The girl likes to ride her horse along the beach while her Grandfather Puss likes to ride in the chairs along the wooden boardwalk, which are pushed by young black boys. Puss would fetch his granddaughter from the beach and then choose one of the many boys to push him in one of the chairs. He asks the boys their names but isn’t really interested in knowing them.
The girl has developed a friendship with one of the black boys. She often comes down to the beach— where the boy sleeps—early in the morning, and the two of them eat dog biscuits and talk. The boy talks about magical things—kings and camels and the Northern Lights. If he were king, the boy says, he wouldn’t stay around here.
One day, Puss comes to find his granddaughter so they can take a chair to look at an electric sign. He sees her sitting with the black boy. Once Puss and the narrator are up on the boardwalk, he says that he doesn’t think it is a good idea for her to be friends with the boy because the boy might harm her. When she asks how, Puss suggests the boy might steal her money. The girl protests, saying that all they do is sit and talk. When Puss asks what they talk about, she claims that she doesn’t know.
The next morning when the girl wakes up, she remembers her grandfather’s words. She decides to go for a horseback ride and not visit the black boy for a few days. She thinks that when Puss sees her riding on the beach, he will stop feeling ill at ease. On the beach, however, the narrator sees her friend sitting in their accustomed place under the boardwalk. The boy stands up to pat the horse, then takes it for a short ride, sitting easily. The boy says he has thought about being a jockey but doesn’t care for their lifestyle as they have to watch what they eat.
The girl gets on her horse again. She plans to jump over the dock. She tells her friend to watch. The girl and the horse race under the boardwalk to get a good start on the jump, but suddenly the girl’s dogs rush down the beach, barking wildly and chasing a cat. They get under the horse’s legs, and the horse gets frightened and jumps sidewise into an iron arch. The girl is thrown from the horse and loses consciousness. In a dreamlike state, she imagines that she hears someone crying. The black boy has come to the girl and holds her in his arms, murmuring soothing words. He carries the narrator back to her house and she nestles against the boy, seeking comfort. At the narrator’s house, Puss comes out to meet them; without saying a word, he hits the black boy in the mouth.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Kay Boyle – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.