If He Hollers Let Him Go
|LC Class||PS3515.I713 I3 2002|
If He Hollers Let Him Go is the first novel by American writer Chester Himes, published in 1945, about an African-American shipyard worker in Los Angeles during World War II. It earned him critical acclaim and was considered a "protest novel", in the tradition of Richard Wright.
Plot and characters
The story spans four days in the life of Robert "Bob" Jones, a newcomer to Los Angeles from Ohio. With some college education, he works as a crew leader in a naval shipyard. In this period, black workers are gaining opportunities in the defense industry as a result of executive orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and union efforts influenced by communist leaders.
However, Jones cannot escape the pressures of racism. He believes he was promoted as a supervisor only to gain the cooperation of black workers in the war effort. He is forced to deal with anti-communist paranoia, resentment from whites on the floor working at the same jobs as "colored boys", and the baiting of black workers by some white females.
His fears invade his dreams, aspirations, and passions. His dream of making something of himself in California is jeopardized as he reacts to the actions of the white people around him. He struggles to contain his urges to fight, kill, and rape as ways to overcome his resentment of white power arrayed against him.
The main characters are the protagonist, Bob Jones, and two women: Madge Perkins, who is white; and Alice Harrison, his higher-class African-American girlfriend. Bob struggles for place in a white-dominated world and is filled with violent thoughts against white people, but does not act on them.
In what is described as a "sexually charged novel", Madge makes a racial slur toward Bob. His calling her a "bitch" results in his demotion. He considers raping her as a way to get back at white America, seeing her as a symbol of "whiteness", but when she expresses sexual attraction to him, he rejects her. Alice tells Bob it is no use getting angry about the inequality that blacks must live with, and he has to learn to deal with it.
Themes addressed in the novel include racism suffered by blacks, color differentiation among African Americans (Alice's light skin is associated with her higher class), employment discrimination against blacks, and class divisions among whites and blacks. Communism is featured 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.
- Michael P. Jeffries, "The Rage in Harlem, and Beyond", review of Lawrence P. Jackson's Chester B. Himes: A Biography, New York Times Book Review, 27 August 2017
- David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography, Verso, 2012, p. 191.