Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304
If He Hollers Let Him Go is a semi-autobiographical novel published in 1945 by African American writer Chester Himes. Bob Jones, the protagonist, is, like Himes, an educated black man who leaves Cleveland, Ohio during World War II to get a job in a naval shipyard in Los Angeles. He finds the city seething with racism towards all non-whites in the wake of Pearl Harbor.
Bob tries to prove himself as a black man in a racist America, but he is constantly undermined and lives with unending fear. His supervisor, Kelly, constantly belittles Bob. In addition, Madge, a white subordinate, refuses to work with Bob because of his race, though she also makes a pass at him. When he refuses to sleep with her, Madge accuses him of rape, and he is thrown in jail. Bob's relationship with his African American girlfriend, Alice, is also fraught. She is lighter-skinned and more educated, and she and her family accept a kind of accommodationist racial policy along the lines of Booker T. Washington. Rather than push for greater equality, Alice and her family want to achieve a kind of refined identity and financial success.
Bob, on the other hand, is filled with hatred against the whites who keep him subordinate despite his job title. In the end, he must go to fight for his country in the war. He is cleared of charges of rape but was carrying a weapon and has the choice to go to fight to escape jail time. There is a certain irony to his situation, as he has to sacrifice his time and possibly his life for a country in which he is not treated as a human being on par with whites. This novel is about the way in which a black man in wartime America faces a domestic enemy: racism.
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