If He Hollers Let Him Go
The story of Bob Jones in If He Hollers Let Him Go is much more than a tale of racism in an oppressive time. It is a psychological exploration of the effects of racism and how black Americans walked a fine line of balancing anger, pride and justifiable rage at a society that could not see past color. The tension that grew to despair in Bob Jones led to imminent destruction of his idealistic nature in a world not ready for change.
Bob Jones is a shipyard worker who is intelligent and naive in his position as leaderman at Atlas Shipyard. Bob does not possess lofty dreams of ownership of the company, he only wishes to be successful in his job and have the respect of the black men of his crew and the white men who are his bosses. His environment is hostile and he receives little cooperation from either white or blacks. It would be better for Bob if he did not understand or see the obstacles in his path but instead he is painfully aware of what he must do, how he must act and who he must serve to maintain his position at the shipyard. A seething, private anguish begins to build in Bob Jones and is compounded in his personal life.
Alice Harrison is Bob Jones's fiancée. Alice comes from a wealthy family that has a different vein of problems than Bob's but they still flow from the same racist source. Her family is constantly forced to compromise themselves in order to maintain their standard of living and practice medicine. This compromise includes the trade-off of Alice's self esteem and dignity for her place among her race. She does not fit into the black world of Bob Jones, a man acutely aware of his racial limitations, nor is she able to belong in the white world. Ultimately, Himes paints Alice as a frustrated woman that only adds to the torment of Bob Jones. Their complacency infuriates Bob and adds to the undercurrent of angry that is a growing tide.
The psychology of Bob Jones illustrates a man tormented by reality. His days blur into his nightmares and he finds it difficult to distinguish between the two. Bob lives in constant terror as he clutches at the only thing he can find left to define himself, his manhood. As his daily trials mount, he begins to fantasize about violent acts, yet Bob's core personality will not allow him to actually fulfill his fantasies. An example of what his fantasies do for his psyche is seen in the incident in which Johnny Stoddard, a white co-worker, beats Bob. Bob plots Johnny's murder and this plan eases his mind.