“The Blues I’m Playing,” first published in Esquire magazine (1934), is anthologized in Hughes’s collection of fourteen short stories, The Ways of White Folks. This story, like the others in the collection, depicts the racial attitudes that surface when whites and blacks interact. The central character, Oceola Jones, is a young black music teacher, herself a gifted jazz and classical musician with insufficient time and money to pursue her art. Mrs. Dora Ellsworth, an aging, wealthy, childless widow, is kind and generous, but she cannot discern great art.
Nevertheless, she wants to help young artists pursue their art. Ormond Hunter, a music critic, introduces Oceola Jones to Mrs. Ellsworth and assures the latter that Oceola is talented. He is correct.
Fascinated by Oceola’s talent and blackness, Mrs. Ellsworth pours money and energy into Oceola’s musical training. Oceola is the only black person Mrs. Ellsworth has known. While Mrs. Ellsworth loves to hear Oceola play classical music, Mrs. Ellsworth increasingly dislikes the jazz and blues, which in her view represent Oceola’s unsublimated soul.
Mrs. Ellsworth, learning through Ormond Hunter that the man staying with Oceola does not pay rent, suggests that Oceola move out of the small apartment, but Oceola refuses because she has promised the man, Pete, that he can stay with her until fall, when he will enroll in medical school. Mrs. Ellsworth is pleased when Pete goes to medical school and leaves Oceola to her music. Oceola’s musical career progresses to Mrs....
(The entire section is 647 words.)