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(02/12/2008) If He Hollers Let Him Go by Chester B. Himes. Garden City. 1945. Doubleday Doran & Company. keywords: Mystery Black America Literature. 249 pages.

The American publishing world of the 1950s and early 1960s didn’t quite know what to do with Chester Himes. His early novels pulled few punches regarding subjects like race, sex, injustice, and violence. It is interesting to note that the dustjacket covers of the American editions of his books are about as flat as they could be and don't at all reflect his extraordinary talent. His crime novels on the other hand, which were published in this country as paperback originals, featured cover art as lurid and suggestive as any of the other paperback crime novels then being published… Don’t miss his first novel, IF HE HOLLERS LET HIM GO.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   In this, his first novel, Chester B. Himes takes his place in the vanguard of those realistic writers best exemplified by James M. Cain. A young Negro from Cleveland, he has been a frequent contributor to the magazines, where he has built up a reputation for hard-hitting prose that carries terrific impact. Before attempting this novel he worked in the war industry described so vividly in this book, so what he writes comes from firsthand information rather than from a fertile imagination. Writing with relentless fury, he unfolds the story of the racial tensions inherent in a West Coast shipyard and their effect on Bob Jones, a young Negro from the Middle West who came to the Coast when jobs in war industry first opened up. With two years of college behind him, he has worked himself up to the position of leaderman, a job of authority yet lacking the authority necessary to back it up, a situation fraught with inner conflict. The result is that his contacts with his fellow workers, with the blowzy white blonde from Texas who constantly throws her color in his face, and with the girl he loves, the daughter of wealthy, upper-class Negro parents, bring him only bitterness and frustration. His efforts to fight back, which take the only form he feels is effective - a chip-on-the-shoulder militancy - are doomed from the start and can only bring about a climax ending in the loss of his job, the girl he loves, and his chance to lead a normal life. There is deep honesty in this novel, perhaps too much so, for it touches on areas which are controversial. There is bitterness, too, but it is the bitterness of a man driven so far into frustration that he has lost the way out and can only strike back blindly. In this respect it is not meant to portray a typical race reaction, but rather an individual one. Yet the frustrations described are typical of those suffered by all Negroes, and in this there is perhaps a word of warning for the future.

 

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