illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

Start Free Trial

Student Question

What is a summary of Langston Hughes' "Berry" and its genre?

Quick answer:

Langston Hughes' "Berry" is a satirical short story that critiques racism and exploitation. It follows Milberry Jones, an uneducated African-American man, who works at Dr. Renfield's Summer Home for Crippled Children. Despite his kindness and hard work, he is underpaid and mistreated due to his race. Ultimately, he is unfairly dismissed, highlighting the prejudice and greed of the institution's staff, to the detriment of the children.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The short story "Berry" is an example of satire, which is used to expose or criticize human vices, habits or behavior through ridicule, humor, irony or exaggeration.

The story revolves around a young man named Milberry Jones. He was young and strong but, unfortunately, uneducated, which meant that it was difficult for him to find gainful and permanent employment. Further disadvantages were that he was African-American and living in the southern United States, known for its prejudice. Milberry found employment at a care center named Dr. Renfield's Summer Home For Crippled Children.

Milberry was hired to replace a Scandinavian kitchen boy who had abandoned his work since it had become too much. From the outset, Milberry, who was kind-hearted, willing and able, was exploited. Firstly, he was paid two dollars less than the previous kitchen hand just because of his race. He was abused by practically all and sundry to do extra tasks. One of these was to assist the sulky and lazy nurses with the children at the beach. Milberry had once offered his help and the young ones took an instant liking to him.

The children called him Berry and he was glad to assist with taking care of them. The children enjoyed his stories and he loved them and cared about them, unlike anyone else around. He noticed that the children were not that well taken care of, after all. Dr. Renfield was in the business of tending to these unfortunate souls purely for profit and thus did not provide the kind of nourishment or proper care for them that their parents believed he did. Milberry was, of course, disgusted by this blatant dishonesty, but could not do anything about it since he was dependent on his job.

It came to be that one day, Milberry was helping a boy who became much too enthusiastic and eager to get to the beach after a long absence. The boy fell and Milberry was summarily dismissed without pay since the boy's wheelchair had been broken during the unfortunate incident.

Throughout the story, Langston Hughes makes fun of the characters' prejudice. He, for example, mentions how Mrs. Osborn had a consternation about African American employees and how she found it difficult to decide where Milberry was to sleep since he could not possibly share quarters with the other employees because they were white.

Her wire to the employment agency in Jersey City brought results—but dark ones.

But Mrs Osborn had no idea how the handyman might like Negroes.

Dr. Renfield's racist prejudice is clearly displayed when he hires Milberry at a lower wage than the previous kitchen help and later discharges him for an incident that was not his fault. Furthermore, the white employees, without exception, display their supercilious attitude by taking it for granted that Milberry has to follow their instructions without question since they are white. Unfortunately, Milberry is in a predicament and does exactly that.

In the end, the children are the ones who lose out the most. The one person who actually cares about them is dismissed, and therein lies the irony. Their parents have put them in the care of a greedy businessman and his equally uncaring staff. Their prejudice, greed and carelessness is what makes them bad—as Milberry thought, 'most of 'em ain't good.'

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial