illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

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What challenges does the character face in Langston Hughes' "Berry"?

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Milberry Jones finds that he meets with demeaning treatment and exploitation on his new job, which isn't very different from the treatment that caused him to leave his previous job.

Milberry is hired sight-unseen through an employment agency to work at Dr. Renfield's Summer Home for Crippled Children. When Mrs. Osborn, the housekeeper, sees that the new kitchen boy is a "Negro," she is perplexed because she does not know where he can sleep or how the other employees will react to him.

Milberry has come from segregated Georgia to New Jersey in order to find more opportunities. Yet at the Home for Crippled Children, he encounters treatment similar to what he has experienced in the South. He is exploited by being paid less than the Scandinavian man he has replaced, he is asked to perform tasks outside of his job description, and he is treated as an inferior, being made to sleep separately from the other help.

Then, when he performs tasks that the indolent nurses do not want to do and there is an accident, he is fired even though the child whose wheelchair breaks is uninjured. Despite this fact, Dr. Renfield keeps saying,

"Criminal carelessness! Criminal carelessness! [and] Mrs. Osborn kept agreeing with him...."

"Indeed it is! Mulberry was to blame."

"Get rid of him today. The fool nigger! And deduct...for that broken wheelchair."

Milberry Jones returns "where he had been hungry for weeks in Newark and Jersey City." He could just as well have stayed in Georgia.

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The main character of “Berry” is faced with the challenge of powerlessness.  He realizes that the children at his workplace are being neglected and he himself is overworked, and he can do nothing about it.

When Milberry shows up at Dr. Renfield’s Summer Home for Crippled Children, no one is expecting a black boy.  They are not sure what to do with him, but Dr. Renfield decides to pay him $2 less and keep him.

Miberry was a nice black boy, big, good-natured, and strong…He needed work and food.

Milberry is not educated because he came from the south where there were not many colored schools, but “he had plenty of mother wit and lots of intuition about people and places.”  He knows he is being taken advantage of, but he does everything that has been asked of him because he has been hungry too long.

Milberry begins to think that there is something phoney about the place, which is far from town.  No one seems to have the children’s interests at heart.  Milberry spends time with them, and the staff let him because they don’t like to.

The children became Milberry’s friends.  They adored him and he them. 

One day Berry is helping take the children to the beach and one falls, and he is fired.  And so the only person who cares about the children has to leave them.

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