If He Hollers Let Him Go Summary

Chester Himes

If He Hollers Let Him Go

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If He Hollers Let Him Go Summary

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If He Hollers Let Him Go is a novel written by Chester Himes, and published in the year 1945. A film adaptation was made in 1968, but was criticized for maintaining almost no resemblance to the original book. The novel is also referenced in a book written by Frantz Fanon, called Black Skin White Masks, within a chapter called “The Fact of Blackness.” Noteworthy themes include, but are not limited to: black racism, color differentiation among African Americans, discrimination on the job, class divisions between white and black people, communism and the consequences of it, the nature of freedom, jazz music; and, on both a literal and metaphorical level, the tensions between darkness and lightness. The book also deals with a very specific time period in American history: that of the country’s early involvement in the Second World War, and the experience of being an African American at the time.

The novel begins with the main character, Robert Jones, recalling a number of dreams that have caused him to wake with a dreadful sense of fear and foreboding. The dreams appear to him in a series, and Jones notes that he has been experiencing this more and more often these days. He is afraid of the war, he writes, and this includes the fear of the war itself and also being forced into the army. He is afraid of the racism around him and what it implies; he is afraid of not being able to live out his life the way he wants, as simply being a man. Jones begins to get ready for work, and the topic shifts to the way he feels when he is dressed in uniform: that is, powerful and strong. He flirts with Ella Mae, a fellow house mate of his, and asks her if she ever feels scared. She refuses to answer, and tells him to go do some work in the shipyard. Jones has recently been promoted to a position which requires great responsibility and leadership.

Jones goes to work that day, and speaks of an encounter that he experiences that changes his life. A white woman named Madge refuses to listen to his instruction, or even work for him, because he is an African-American. She uses racial slurs liberally. Joan believes that her opinions and attitudes are originated from two things: Her racist fear, and her racially-defined lust. Jones loses his temper with her, which leads to a confrontation with his supervisor. The supervisor expresses great disappointment in Jones’ actions. He says Jones has betrayed the hope that the company had in him, including the fact that he would be an example of how to conduct positive race relations. Jones is demoted. He is frustrated and angry, nearly has a violent encounter with an angry white man, and leaves work early. Jones struggles to deal with both his feelings and his intentions.

Alice Harrison is another African American woman in the area; however, she is far more pale than Jones. Her parents are notable in their social and economic stature in society, specifically within the white world. They are convinced that they are simply leaders in what will be a transition into a more unified society. Jones has a hard time understanding and is disrespectful. Jones is struggling to define and secure a relationship with Alice, but Alice’s love is very conditional. She tells Jones that she can only remain with him if he agrees to apologize to both Madge, the woman who yelled racial slurs at home, as well as his bosses at work. Initially he refuses this demand; Alice argues that happiness is possible, even though they are living, and existing within a system of racial segregation. Finally, Jones agrees to do as she requests.

Jones goes back to work, and begins to try to make amends. Unfortunately, he has been manipulated into planning revenge on Madge by another white co-worker. The co-worker gives Jones the address, and Jones visit her that night. Madge is unexpectedly eager to use Jones sexually, while Jones is put off and surprised by this. He refuses to have sex with her, and leaves.

The next day, Jones is attempting to behave properly, but again runs into Madge. She screams that she is being raped. Jones understands that his word will not be trusted against Madge’s, so he tries to escape.

He decides that as long as he is going to jail anyway, he might as well do something to deserve it. He gets his guns and decides to go kill the hostile white men that he had previously argued with. He is seen by some patrol police officers who discover that he is carrying a gun. They recognize Jones as being wanted for the rape, and arrest him.

The owner of the shipyard that Jones works for visits him in jail. He tells him that Madge will not be pressing charges. Jones finishes the narrative by deciding that Madge most likely told the truth about the fake rape, but the company has probably spun the circumstances against him for their own gain. A judge gives Jones an ultimatum: Join the Army or be prosecuted on the charge of gun possession. Jones has no choice except to agree.