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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In all his writing, Himes is concerned with the daily realities, the pressures and humiliations, of being black in a racist society dominated by whites. Although his work leaves little doubt as to whom the real enemy is, it also reveals the agonized awareness that blacks often do little to help their own cause, and thus remain the prisoners of their weaknesses and obsessions. Himes expresses these concerns indirectly in his detective novels through the violent adventures of his two black detectives in Harlem. In Pinktoes, he reveals his vision of the black experience in America more directly, in a savagely funny satire of Harlem's black liberals.

Himes's protagonist is Mamie Mason, an upper-middle-class black woman who believes she is devoted to solving "the Negro problem." In reality, Mamie is totally preoccupied with sex, as are all the other characters. Her idea of helping her people is to invite wealthy blacks and whites to her drunken parties and then encourage them to pair off with each other. Although it is easy to understand how this type of novel could be mistaken for erotica or even pornography. Pinktoes is less erotic than a cage full of gerbils during mating season. Even a trace of erotica would defeat the author's purpose, which is to show the complete lack of real love and meaning in the lives of his characters.

The changing meaning of the word "faith" is central to the novel's message. In a prefatory chapter, the narrator explains that there is more faith in Harlem than anywhere else in the world, as shown by fat Mamie's brutal dieting and her determined pursuit of distinguished white guests for her parties and bedroom. However, it soon becomes clear that like all satirists, Himes assumes moral standards against which his characters' behavior is to be measured. Mamie's "faith" is actually a kind of despair, because it is faith in drinking, gluttony, and debauchery for their own sakes. At the novel's conclusion — a conclusion which concludes nothing — the characters are no better off than they were at the beginning. They are not wealthier or happier and they have in no way advanced the cause they babble about so idealistically. As a satire, Pinktoes is a cry of anger and disgust at the antics of some of the least sincere members of the Civil Rights movement,