What is the plot of the play Soul Gone Home?

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Langston Hughes wrote the one act play entitled A Soul Gone Home in 1963. It was part of a collection called Five Plays by Langston Hughes.  The plot of the play is a sixteen-year-old boy named Ronnie Bailey who has died. His mother is standing over his body in the tenement room where they live. She is pleading loudly with God and her son that he would come back from the spirit world and talk to her. 

Ronnie does come back to talk to her, but it is not the conversation she expects. He accuses her of being a bad mother. She is shocked and says he never talked to her that way when he was alive. He agrees and says that since he is dead now, he can talk to her that way. Readers can infer that Ronnie was afraid of his mother when he was living, but, in death, that fear is gone. Here is a quote from the play in which Ronnie airs his grievances against his mother: 

"SON: Yes it is me talking, too! I say you been a no-good mama.

MOTHER: What for you talkin' to me like that, Ronnie? You ain't never said nothin' like that to me before.

SON: I know it, but I'm dead now, and I can say what I want to say. (Stirring) You done called on me to talk, ain't you? Lemme take these pennies off my eyes so I can see. (He takes the coins off his eyes, throws them across the room, and sits up in bed. He is a very dark boy in a torn white shirt. He looks hard at his mother.) Mama, you know you ain't done me right. 

Readers learn that Ronnie died of tuberculosis, and the doctor said that he was undernourished. His body did not have the defenses to fight the infection because he did not have "milk and eggs" to eat. Ronnie also accuses his mother of making him sell papers from the time he was able to walk, causing him to grow up bowlegged and stunted from lack of nutrition. He says his mother did not teach him any manners or morals. She comes back with shock and horror, citing the pain she had when she delivered him, and she says she did the best she could with so little money. She tries to shame him for talking to her in that way, but Ronnie does not back down. She accuses him of haunting his poor old mother. Then, she tells him to lay back down as she hears the city's ambulance coming to take the body to the undertaker. She wails loudly when the men come to take Ronnie, presumably putting on a show, because after they leave, she goes to the mirror to powder her face. She puts on a fur coat and takes a cigarette out of her bag. She also puts on a red hat. This leaves readers to wonder—how could she afford all that while her son starved? She promises, in the last line of the play, to put flowers on his grave tomorrow if she can pick up a dollar that night. 

belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Soul Gone Home" is a one-act play by Langston Hughes.

The play concerns a young boy who has just died, and his mother, who grieves for him. In the course of the play, the son returns in spirit to chastise his mother for her mistakes in raising him. As they argue, the son claims that they family was so poor that he starved to death, but since his mother was too prideful to admit that they were poor, she caused his death by not making enough money "hustling" on the streets. For her part, the mother becomes belligerent, telling the son:

MOTHER: ...Now, just when you get big enough to work and do me some good, you have to go and die.
SON: I sure am dead!
MOTHER: But you ain't decent dead! Here come come back to haunt your poor old mama, and spoil her cryin' spell, and spoil the mournin'.
(Hughes, "Soul Gone Home," Google Books)

Both are grieving, but neither wants to take responsibility for the death. The mother believes her mourning to be of top priority, since she raised the son and received nothing in return, and the son believes that she should have done more to feed him and keep him alive.

At the end of the play, undertakers remove the boy's body and the mother prepares to go back out on the streets, promising to buy flowers for his grave if she makes enough money.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The plot of this one-act play is that a 16-year-old boy has just died from tuberculosis. As his mother mourns him and wishes he could return to life, the boy sits up, to his mother's amazement, and begins to speak. Rather than having a joyful reunion with his mother, he complains bitterly about their lives together and claims that she has "been a bad mother to me." He says that she never wanted him and that they were crushingly poor, even after she started working as a prostitute. He chastises her for allowing him to grow up on the street and for not teaching him "manners nor morals." She answers that he should feel grateful for what she did for him and that she felt held back by her son in life, in part because he was a bastard child. The son then returns to being dead. In the end, when the paramedics come to take her son's body, the mother begins to cry again.