If he hollers let him go
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A classic of Afro-American fiction, Chester Himes' first novelIf He Hollers Let Him Go, offers powerful testimony and witness to the poisonous rage and anxieties, the frustration and despair at stunted possibilities of a black "leaderman", Bob Jones. Set in a Cleveland shipyard during the Second World War, the novel reflects the pervasive violence and devastingly perverse paradigms of American racism through the traumatic experiences of Jones who, from the moment he wakes up and drives to work until the moment he returns home and goes to sleep, is literally overwhelmed by the raw, brutal circumstances of Jim Crowism. Finding himself trapped by the unremittingly stark stereotypes of race and his own psychic internalisation of the contradictions, paradoxes and inequities of race, Jones's anguished isolation is communicated through both his strained relations with Alice--his black bourgeois girlfriend--and his illicit, perverse desire for Madge, a Southern white working class woman whose sexual demands result in him being falsely charged with rape. The latter forms the climax to the novel and shows, among other things, how palpably intermingled sex and racism have been (and are) in American society. Jones's pain, awkwardness and discomfort, revealing the price of that intermingling, here dramatised as an emasculated and petrified version of black "manhood". --David Marriott --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Campus Circle, "10/10/13
"Campus Circle, "10/10/13
Campus Circle, 10/10/13
Campus Circle, 10/10/13
"Devastating." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Here starts a wild journey into Bob's soul, while he interrogates himself about what being a black man means in a white, segregated world, and what future there could ever be - what future of fulfilment there could ever be - for a man in his position.
The story is told in the first person by Bob and it's mindblowing. Himes takes you into Bob's heart of hearts and let you into his deepest, more secret thoughts and feelings. Into his most secrets fears, his most unspeakable of hopes, into his deepest frustrations. There had been moments I had to remind myself: "You are not Bob Jones", so deep the identification was. I really thought with him, felt with him, got angry with him, grabbed and lost hopes with him. It's like walking all the way right beside him.
Himes is a master of dialogue. I've always liked his strong grip on people's way of speaking of themselves in the sheer way they speak of anything. Sometimes it's more like listening to his characters than read them.
I've rarely read such an involving story. I enjoyed it a lot.
This is the latest in the Serpent's Tail Classics series. Each book is given a brief new, modern introduction, in this case by Jake Arnott and this is particularly helpful in placing the book into context. This adds much to the reading of the book.
Arnott explains that the author Himes had certain elements in common with his main character. Both escaped from Cleveland attracted by the apparently more racially integrated offerings of California. In Himes' case, this initially went well as he gained a writing job with Warner Brothers only to be crassly dismissed by Jack Warner on purely racial grounds. He went to work in the shipyards where recent events in Pearl Harbour meant that employers couldn't be too fussy about the colour of your skin due to the volumes of work. It's not surprising that Himes would be angry with this outcome. And if there's one thing that his main character, Robert Jones, is it would be angry.
It's easy to forget how very different life was for African Americans just a few decades ago, even outside of the South. And there's no doubt that much of Jones' anger is due to the circumstances in which he finds himself, but while we might want to have an intrinsic sympathy with his plight, he doesn't always make it easy for the reader to take his side.
In fact, Jones has it relatively good. He has a steady job in a position of some authority as a `Leaderman' of a small group of workers in the yard. He has a steady girlfriend from a well respected family. And yet, he is on a path of seemingly unstoppable self-destruction from the first few pages of the book, whose action takes place over just four days. Indeed, he is just as guilty about judging on appearance as his white oppressors. At each point, Jones either thinks the constructive, non-violent solutions, or is guided there by his friends or his girlfriend, and yet, even as he knows it's happening, he continues to take decisions that will put his precarious position in more and more dangerous jeopardy. Will he end up the agent of his own outcome, or will social conditions take the decision out of his hands? The chances of each ebb and flow and you are never quite sure which one will determine the outcome.
Is Himes trying to say `treat people like dirt and even the most reasonable will react violently'? Or is it a call to arms? Either way, it's shocking and not easy to read. It was a brutal and ugly time, and Himes tells it like it is with terrifying honesty. But while social conditions have thankfully changed in the years since this book was first published, many of these issues continue to be present either implicitly or explicitly.
This edition also concludes with a short `manifesto' for African Americans, written a year earlier which is communist in tone, but calls for `martyrs' to the cause to create incidents that will incite the required `revolution'. Perhaps this suggests that Himes saw Jones as just such a martyr to the cause.
One of the more interesting characters in the book is Jones's girlfriend, Alice. Light enough to pass for white in Caucasian company, she's clearly attracted to Jones' bad boy side and wants a better future for him, certainly in line with what her Mother expects. Whether she'll go to martyr or to Mater or just call the whole thing off is an on-going issue with perhaps a surprising outcome.
Be prepared from some terms that may not be familiar to you, but most of all, be prepared for a brash, violent and at times insulting, angry read. But be in no doubt, this is an important work of African American fiction, and well worth reading.
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