Free Essays - Tales of Simple in Langston Hughes' Black Voices

Free Essays - Tales of Simple in Langston Hughes' Black Voices

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Free Essays - Tales of Simple in Langston Hughes' Black Voices


      Langston Hughes is represented in Black Voices by the Tales of

Simple.  Hughes first presents his character Jessie B. Semple in the

Forward: Who is Simple?  In this tale the reader is given its first look at

the character Jessie B. Semple who is a black man that represents almost

the "anybody or everybody" of black society.  Semple is a man who needs to

drink, to num the pain of living life.  "Usually over a glass of beer, he

tells me his tales... with a pain in his soul... sometimes as the old blues

says... Simple might be laughing to keep from crying" ( 98, 99 ).


      Jessie B. Semple, also known as Simple, has just the right

combination of qualities to be Black America's new spokesman and unsung

hero.  Semple seems to possess just enough urban humor and cynicism, down-

home simplicity, naivete, and "boy-next-door innocence" that Semple easily

becomes a character that hard-working, average, everyday people can relate

to.  He quickly becomes this sort of Black Everyman whose bunions hurt all

the time and whose thoughts are relatively quite simple, yet he is a man

who rises above these facts and has a perception that shows the man to have

great wisdom and incredible insight.  And although he maintains a

seriousness for all his wisdom to come through; his presentation of the

facts is given in a humorous manner.  In Bop, "That's why so many white

folks do not get their heads beat just for being white.  But me --- a cop

is liable to grab me almost anytime and beat my head- just for being

colored " (105).  This side to Semple is  an example of Hughes attempt to

give simple facts or actual truth but instead of telling these things

harshly and angrily he tries to sweeten them with a little sarcastic humor.


      At times, Simple is full of pain. "I have had so many hardships in

this life," said Simple, "that it is a wonder I'll live until I die" (105).

This comment by Semple is one of many that help portray him as a simple

man who has been both mentally and physically broken-down by society but

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who  in Census also says that, in spite of all the hardships he has

experienced, he is still here.


      Hughes, by using Semple, shows his discontent of the black man's

world, yet in showing these feelings Hughes never portrays himself to be

angry, overcome by fear, or overwhelmed by racial paranoia.  During these

desperate and hard years (post-war years), Semple who is from the urban

ghetto is himself free of the problems that plague many ghetto dwellers

during this time.  Semple is a man who avoids the inhibititions of welfare,

crime, and drugs which is something that many of his neighbors do not do,

yet in no way is Semple ever shown to possess the intelligence of a genius,

not even for his seemingly flawless character.  Hughes' character is a

simple man who is never shown to have complete misery while at the same

time he also never has the greatest life either. Rather, he symbolizes an

innocent comical view of both black and white America, which is the basis

of Hughes' perspective of the Black man's existence.


      During Hughes' career as a man of great literature, Hughes wrote of

a life of frustrations and dreams deferred and of being a minstrel man who

laughs to hide his pain, but what is seen through Hughes' character Jessie

B. Semple is Hughes' approach  at a comical view.  Through his character,

Semple, Hughes shows that even with the complexities of modern urban living

that simplicity will prevail with simple men who provide simple truths

backed by simple answers.  For this reason the Simple stories were written

for his own people because until this time most of Hughes' work had been

written for the white readers of the time.  However, with his new character

Jessie B. Semple, Hughes returned to his own people rather than reaching

out to the white readers as he had been doing before.


      In conclusion, his character held the manners, talk, and dreams

that were in reality the major concerns of Hughes' imagination.  For Hughes

the ghetto was more than a place to live and  write rather it was a place

that held his interest with all that it had to offer: from the people that

lived there to the individual personality that the place held for itself.

Regardless of what was thought to intrans Hughes into dwelling in such a

place, he was not consumed by merely its name alone ( Harlem) moreover it

was the people and atmosphere that most struck Hughes and pulled him into

this place.  Here he became a voice that spoke what many saw, yet they

failed to speak because of the racial tensions of the time.  Overall then,

his character Jessie B. Semple was merely an extension of a voice for all

those who failed to speak up when they most needed to but couldn't afford

to because of the times.



Chapman, Abraham. Black Voices: An Anthology of Afro-American Literature,

Signet, New York, 1968

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