(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bob Jones, a tense, intelligent, sensitive, black shipyard worker, is anxious to succeed in his position as leaderman at Atlas Shipyard; he yearns to be “just a simple Joe,” distinguished by neither color nor ambition. Caught in a world filled with unleashed hatred and tensions intensified by war, Bob is so haunted by his nightmarish existence that he lives in constant terror. Fear and panic dominate his entire world to such an extent that he cannot distinguish his terrifying nightmares from reality.

As an assistant foreman in a predominately white, hostile environment, Bob desires acceptance and respect, but he and his black crew receive little cooperation from their white coworkers and supervisors. He is agonizingly aware of the problems he must deal with in order to keep his position, one that is vital to his self-image, the affirmation of his manhood; at the same time, he sees the precariousness of his situation as the sole black leaderman in a racially charged atmosphere. This tremendous strain produces such private anguish and intense fears that Bob Jones exists on the borderline between murderous impulses and total collapse.

As the indignities and humiliations steadily increase, Bob is driven compulsively to fantasies of violence—his only means to restore his sense of manhood—but he is psychologically incapable of carrying them out. When Madge Perkins, a white coworker, insults him and refuses to work for “niggers,” he loses his temper and...

(The entire section is 606 words.)