The Ways of White Folks Summary

Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

During Langston Hughes’s travels to Russia in 1931, he became intensely interested in D. H. Lawrence’s short fiction. As he later described in I Wonder as I Wander, he had never read Lawrence before and remarked that both “The Rocking Horse Winner” and “The Lovely Lady” had made his “hair stand on end.” “I could not put the book down,” he wrote. Furthermore, he wrote: “If D. H. Lawrence can write such psychologically powerful accounts of folks in England . . . maybe I could write stories like his about folks in America.”

This fascination led to The Ways of White Folks, a collection of fourteen stories. The title is derived from the story “Berry,” an account of a young black man who works as a handyman in a home for handicapped children. Berry is exploited and does more than his share of work for a pittance. He cannot understand why this happens and remarks, “The ways of white folks, I mean some white folks, is too much for me. I rekon they must be a few good ones, but most of em ain’t good—least wise they don’t treat me good. And Lawd knows, I ain’t never done nothin’ to them, nothin’ a-tall.”

Overall, the stories comment on the suffering the black community endures at the hands of white society. “Slave on the Block,” for example, details how a white couple strives to make a young black artist fit into their aesthetic mold. Humorously, the young man, rebelling, runs off with the...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

The Ways of White Folks Bibliography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Emanuel, James A. Langston Hughes. New York: Twayne, 1967.

Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.