If He Hollers Let Him Go is a line from a nursery rhyme that illuminates the dilemma of Bob Jones, an African American worker in a Los Angeles defense plant. An intelligent but conflicted man, he relocated from Ohio to California in search of a chance to find a good job and a better life. Along with the financial benefits, he anticipates the promise of upward social mobility when he courts Alice, the fair-skinned daughter of a well-to-do doctor. In spite of the racial climate in California at the time—Japanese Americans are being uprooted and sent to relocation camps, Mexican Americans are routinely harassed—he and Alice make plans to marry.
He is both pleased with and ashamed of his pride in Alice’s looks. That she can and does pass for white when with her white associates is a source of ambivalence for him. Yet when he shows her off to his male friends, he enjoys the envy he sees in them. The differences in their backgrounds and attitudes about race are often the cause of their occasional arguments. In spite of himself, Jones finds race controlling much of what he thinks and how he feels. He has unsettling dreams about occurrences that can only be interpreted as the consequence of his ongoing apprehension about white people and the dangers that they represent.
A major complication in his life is a coworker, Madge, a white woman from Texas. Though she is “white trash,” he is attracted to her, and she flirts with him when...
(The entire section is 471 words.)