Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 656
Langston Hughes's short story "On the Road" follows a homeless man, Sargeant, as he struggles with racism and deprivation in a small town during the Depression. Racism—and how it ties in with hypocritical white Christianity—is a key theme in the story. From a very early point, Hughes introduces seemingly Christian characters whose immediate response to seeing Sargeant, a "big black man," is to dismiss him. Key among these is the Reverend Mr. Dorset, a minister from whom Christian charity might be expected, and yet:
Said the Reverend Mr. Dorset before Sargeant even realized he'd opened his mouth: "I'm sorry. No! Go right on down this street four blocks and turn to your left, walk up seven and you'll see the Relief Shelter. I'm sorry. No!" He shut the door. Sargeant wanted to tell the holy man that he had already been to the Relief Shelter, been to hundreds of relief shelters during the depression years, the beds were always gone and supper was over, the place was full, and they drew the color line anyhow. But the minister said, "No," and shut the door. Evidently he didn't want to hear about it. And he had a door to shut.
As the story progresses, Sargeant is made keenly aware of his blackness, a fact Hughes reminds us of through the repetition of how white the town is—"white people," "white cops," the covering of snow on the church—and through references to Sargeant as a "big black man" and even as a "black Negro." This latter is a tautology—it is not necessary to describe a person as both black and "Negro," as the two words have the same meaning. This simply underlines how strongly the fact of Sargeant's blackness resonates with the people in the town: it is not only the first thing they notice about him, but essentially all they care to notice.
In his mind, Sargeant so fiercely wants to dismantle this hypocrisy that he actually pulls down the church. Seeking only shelter, he is turned away and arrested; the violence inflicted upon him by the police causes him to hallucinate a scenario in which he pulls down the building in its entirety. Afterward,
Sargeant thought he was alone, but listening to the crunch, crunch, crunch on the snow of his own footsteps, he heard other footsteps, too, doubling his own. He looked around, and there was Christ walking along beside him, the same Christ that had been on the cross on the church—still stone with a...
(The entire section contains 656 words.)
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