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If He Hollers Let Him Go: A Novel (Himes, Chester) Paperback – September 3, 2002
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If He Hollers Let Him Go places Himes in the pantheon of 20th-century novelists. It is an intense and muscular story, with an assembly of characters drawn from virtually every social and economic class present in Southern California in the '40s. The novel takes place over four days in the life of Bob Jones, the only black foreman in a shipyard during World War II. Jones lives in a society literally drenched in race consciousness--every conversation in a bar, every personal relationship, every instruction given on a job site, every casual glance on a sidewalk, every interaction of any kind, no matter how trivial, is imbued with a painful and dangerous meaning. A slight mistake, an unwitting rebellion, an unintentional expression of rage or desire can spell disaster for a black man--a beating over a game of craps, or an arrest, or termination from a job, or an accusation of rape. Jones awakes each day in fear, and lives steeped in fear:
It came along with consciousness. It came into my head first, somewhere back of my closed eyes, moved slowly underneath my skull to the base of my brain, cold and hollow. It seeped down my spine, into my arms, spread through my groin with an almost sexual torture, settled in my stomach like butterfly wings. For a moment I felt torn all loose inside, shriveled, paralyzed, as if after awhile I'd have to get up and die.For Jones, there is no escape from the constant drumbeat of race and racism. It invades his dreams, his tiniest aspirations, and his deepest passions. Every attempt to retaliate or defend himself leads only to further trouble, loss, or humiliation. He can never forget who he is or what he is prevented from being. At the same time, he comes across as an actor, a subject, a doer, and not as a hapless, helpless victim. For all that he is confronted with, he never stops planning and acting and moving, and in the end, he survives, though his escape is incomplete and bittersweet.
The very idea that Jones can escape, however, marks a revolution in American literature. Thwarted at nearly every turn, he is nonetheless a powerful, intelligent, complicated agent of his own destiny. This 1945 novel is a compelling read, and Chester Himes deserves to be remembered for far more than Cotton Comes to Harlem and the raft of hard-bitten detective novels with which he made his living. --Andrew Himes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Jones starts out as a fairly "OK" figure, a Black worker who has succeeded in a war time shipyard playing the game square with possessions and an upwardly mobile future and deferment from the War as an essential war worker. Then every force gets set after him, a trashy white woman coworker who flirts and cries rape, the union bureaucrats who are supposed to be defending his rights as a worker but will do anything to keep peace for the war (a depiction in this and other novels that got Himes's the blackball by Communist party supporters in the literary world), of course, the police, the Black middle class represented by his girl friend, and his own fear and self doubt. He seems to be colliding with the whole world unified around "the war effort" and peace at home.
As such, the novel can grip the reader, not just due to its social or historical impact, but because it does the real ideal work of a novel, one character, seeming an average person, set against big forces, struggling for life. It does that well. I will not say any more lest I spoil the experience of this novel for those who need to read it.
Himes has good grit and good realism.Read more ›
When Bob is demoted after a run-in with a white woman at work he is barely able to control his emotions, imagining all sorts of reprisals. The shame and humiliation mixed with outrage are strong but they are tempered with the fear of consequences should he try to do anything about it.
Chester Himes' first novel is an extremely compelling tale of injustice as Bob's world inevitably falls apart. The helplessness is vividly portrayed as Bob's dreams are continually beaten down for no other reason than the colour of his skin and the urge to fight back is so strong it's palpable.
Foolish me, I had no idea that times were that hard for African Americans back during WWII in L.A. I thought that we had a more enlightened attitude here in sunny California. My hope is that we're a better city now and that this type of discrimination doesn't occur, but then I'm a little naive, as shown by the reality of this book.
It's a damn shame. And I'm saying this as a white guy who happens to be color-blind, as they say. Himes did end up moving to Europe where he was better treated.
Lastly, all I can say is once I started reading If He Hollers...
I could not put it down and finished it in two days--my eyes aching and all. If you're looking for the real thing, this is it.
Tough writing is not easy to find these days, writing that's from the gut and is about something... This book has it. Long live Chester Himes.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book by Himes. Honestly maybe the most troubling book to read though because you feel so involved and sorry for the racism present in the book, but obviously a great eye... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Michaela Ploof
Really well written. I was assigned to read this for a class, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Found that it wasn't so easy to put the book down!Published 8 months ago by Madison
This is a very influential book centered around power. Bob lives in a society where white people hold all the power. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Tammy
Not anticipating or did not care about reading this book, until I actually started to read it as an assignment in my English 101. It is up to you to read this and I recommend it.Published on June 8, 2014 by Cameron A. Wong