If He Hollers Let Him Go
|LC Class||PS3515.I713 I3 2002|
If He Hollers Let Him Go is a novel by Chester Himes, published in 1945, about an African American shipyard worker in Los Angeles during World War II. A 1968 film adaptation with Raymond St. Jacques, Barbara McNair, Kevin McCarthy, and Arthur O'Connell bore little resemblance to the book.
The story spans four days in the life of Robert "Bob" Jones, a newcomer to L.A. from Ohio, who has some college education, and works as a crew leader in a naval shipyard. Jones lives in a time when black workers experience a new-found authority as supervisors and garner decent wages as a result of union efforts. However for Bob Jones this is no escape from the pressures of racism. It quickly becomes apparent that he was promoted only in order to facilitate the cooperation of black workers in the war-time effort. He is forced to deal with anti-communist paranoia, resentment from whites on the floor at working on the same jobs as "negro boys", and the vicious baiting of the black workers by white females. These manifest as fears which invade his dreams, his aspirations, and his passions. His dream of making something of himself in California is jeopardized as he reacts with emotion to the actions of the white people around him. He fights back the urges to fight, to kill, and to rape as ways to overcome the power that "color" has over himself. The main characters are the protagonist, Bob Jones, Madge Perkins, and Alice Harrison. Bob is an insecure black man living a white dominated world, and he constantly has violent thoughts against white people but he never acts on them. Madge is a white co-worker of Bob's, and he calls her a slut for making a racial slur towards him. He is later demoted for this unacceptable outburst. Bob later decides to rape her to get back at white America, as he views her as a symbol of "whiteness", but when she expresses sexual attraction towards him and proclaims, "Rape me!" Bob is turned off and does not carry through with the act of rape. Alice is Bob's upper class, light-skinned girlfriend, and she tells Bob that it is no use of getting angry with the inequality that black people face in the current American society and he should just learn to deal with it.
Themes addressed in the novel include black and white racism, color differentiation among African-Americans, discrimination on the job, and class divisions among whites and blacks. Communism is dealt with generously, as the Communist unionists ("agitators") are the only ones who talk about the issue of race in any way with which the protagonist agrees. There is some reference to jazz.