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University of California Berkeley If He Hollers Let Him Go Novel Discussion

University of California Berkeley If He Hollers Let Him Go Novel Discussion

Question Description

Choose one of the interpretive claims below about If He Hollers Let Him Go.

Choose a passage /quote from the book that help you develop the claim. Analyze it closely.

Interpretive Claims:

  • As Chester Himes’s narrator drives around Los Angeles, the novel confronts readers with tacit representations of segregated urban space.
  • Himes’s novel depicts Los Angeles as a partial escape; despite having left Ohio and Jim Crow behind, Bob Jones finds himself in a war-time city where his patriotism is constantly put to the test and the threat of the draft is always around the corner.
  • By using a first-person perspective, Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go emphasizes Bob Jones’s inner conflict. On the one hand, Jones prides himself on his physical stature, his car, and his newfound economic mobility, but, on the other, he worries that he will lose the little freedom that he has found in LA.
  • Throughout If He Hollers Let Him Go, Bob Jones’s personal attitudes and sentiments often correlate with the visual scenery described in the novel, particularly how Bob views the city environment around him.

  • Throughout If He Hollers Let Him Go, Bob Jones’s car functions as a trope for Los Angeles

Example passage you can analyze:

Passages from Chester Himes’ If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945; pages 10 & 12)

I went out to the garage, threw up the door, backed halfway out to the street on the starter, telling myself at the time I oughtn’ to do it. I had a ’42 Buick Roadmaster I’d bought four months ago, right after I’d gotten to be a leaderman, and every time I got behind the wheel and looked down over the broad, flat, mile-long hood I thought about how the rich white folks out in Beverly couldn’t even buy a new car now and got a certain satisfaction. I straightened out and dug off with a jerk, turned the corner at forty, pushed it on up in the stretch on Fifty-fourth between San Pedro and Avalon, with my nerves tightening, telling me to take it slow before I got into a battle royal with some cracker motor-cycle cop, and my mind telling me to hell with them, I was a key man in a shipyard, as important as anybody now.


The red light caught me at Manchester; and that made me warm. It never failed; every time I got in a hurry I got caught by every light. I pulled up in the outside lane, abreast a V-8 and an Olds, shifted back to first, and got set to take the lead. When the light turned green it caught a white couple in the middle of the street. The V-8 full of white guys dug off and they started to run for it; and the two white guys in the Olds blasted at them with the horn, making them jump like grasshoppers. But when they looked up and saw we were colored they just took their time, giving us a look of cold hatred.

I let out the clutch and stepped on the gas. Goddamn ’em, I’ll grind ’em into the street, I thought. But just before I hit them something held me. I tamped the brake.

‘What the hell!’ Johnson snarled, picking himself up off the floor.

I sat there looking at the white couple until they had crossed the sidewalk, giving them stare for stare, hate for hate. Horns blasted me from behind, guys in the middle lanes looked at me as they passed; but all I could see was two pecks who didn’t hate me no more than I hated them. Finally I went ahead, just missed sideswiping a new Packard Clipper. My arms were rubbery and my fingers numb; I was weak as if I’d been heaving sacks of cement all day in the sun.

After that everything got under my skin. I was coming up fast in the middle lane and some white guy in a Nash coupé cut out in front of me without signalling. I had to burn rubber to keep from taking off his fender; and the car behind me tapped my bumper. [. . .]

Respond to one classmate’s post

classmate’s post:

“I couldn’t hear him breathing and I looked for him to hit me, probably to beat me to death, and I didn’t give a goddamn. Then he began chuckling and I could smell his breath on me again and he asked, ‘Whatja kill him for?’… He laughed louder and louder until his big booming laugh woke up the whole neighborhood and he said ‘That’s right, you kill ’em every time,’ … ‘Hell, I’ve raped all kinda women, white women, black women, yellow women, red women, and the only reason I ain’t raped no green women is ’cause I couldn’t find none,’ (Himes 198-199).

The quote I am analyzing occurs in the very end of the novel, in one of Bob’s final dreams from the jail cell when he has been falsely framed for a crime he did not commit. This dream does a good job of symbolizing Bob’s inner conflict, as well as representing the contrast of California’s image: between seeming, by name, one of the most progressive and open states, and actually following in many of the same, discriminatory, practices as other states. This quote does a good job of illustrating both, with the marine representing California and Bob being himself. The marine, when first catching up to Bob, asks him what he did in a whisper, indicating he may have had some sort of sympathy, or wanted to give Bob a chance to explain himself/his situation before coming to a conclusion about him. Similarly, Bob says, in the beginning of the quote written above, that he expects to get hit or beat by the man, but that does not happen. Instead, the man waits and listens, giving off an aura of understanding – even asking what he killed him for before saying anything more, before then laughing loudly at Bob and using racial slurs. This is like California, it seems to give each citizen equal rights, the way a white person would first be questioned before being immediately beaten if accused of something, but then, goes on to discriminate and offer the black American (Bob in this case) no real opportunity to explain himself or say what happened. Both the marine and California gave Bob a sense of false hope, making things more confusing to him and driving him crazy.

This conflicting messages coming from the marine, or California, is what causes Bob to feel his inner conflict. On one hand, he wants to believe that California is more equal, yet, what he often sees with his own eyes is the opposite, causing him to not know what the appropriate way to respond is. At first, Bob responds with defiance, asking “what you gonna do about it” after saying he killed the man, and calling the marine a “goddamn peckerwood”. This is the equivalent of when Bob tries to stand up for equality, like when he calls Madge a slut for using racial slurs at him, hoping that the state of California will see the situation in an unbiased manner and help him out accordingly. Yet, Bob then doesn’t reply to the marine for the rest of the passage – half a page – before then beginning to respond in a direct and cooperative, almost defeated, manner, simply telling the Marine the honest answer to each question he asks. This demonstrates his relationship with California at other times, he accepts it to be another horrible place sometimes and just attempts to do the best he can without causing trouble, like what Alice encourages him to do throughout the story.

The last sentence in the quote I attached above hammers home this point. Now, by mentioning all the different girls he has raped, of all kinds, the Marine is showing that California can oppress all types of people simultaneously. From Japanese Americans to African Americans, anyone who is seen (like the green women not yet found) will be oppressed if not white, at least to some degree. This exact contrast in California is what causes Bob’s inner conflict: California can be so accepting and will listen at first, yet will completely flip, being brutal about “raping every women” just a few paragraphs later. When the environment around him is changing so much, Bob does not know how to respond to it all, shifting his moods, and thus responses, along with the shifts in the state mentality.

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