58 pages 1 hour read

Chester Himes

If He Hollers Let Him Go

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1945

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Themes

Racial Antagonism and Color Prejudice

Racial antagonism clearly creates the central conflicts in If He Hollers Let Him Go. Bob Jones is obsessed with whiteness and blackness, with how he is treated because of his blackness, and with the injustices people get away with because of their whiteness. Bob sees whiteness as a weapon and blackness as a handicap—white people are able to control and dictate what happens to him because society favors white people, and his blackness constantly causes issues for him in every area of his life. In fact, almost every conflict Bob has in the novel is about race: his issues with his bosses, Kelly and Mac; his altercation with the white woman, Madge, when she yells a racial slur at him; and even his fights with his girlfriend, Alice. It is true that Bob is obsessed with race, but as the novel demonstrates, this is because race—whether in the form of the weaponizing of whiteness or the social handicap of his blackness—plays a role in every aspect of his life.

Bob’s relationships across racial, gender, and class lines demonstrate a related theme of the novel: the tension between darkness and lightness. Various characters in the novel, including Bob, Ella Mae, Alice, Madge, Cleo, and others, are fixated on the color of people’s skin.

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