The Ways of White Folks

Race, Mobility and Hope

In Langston Hughes’ shorty story collection "Ways of White Folks," gifted, upwardly mobile African Americans often meet misfortune. On a cursory read, these fatalistic narratives seem to connote a disastrous, helpless fate for African Americans. Despite their oppression, however, his main characters continue to show vibrancy and courage. In this, he simultaneously acknowledges that African Americans can be exceptional, but that, ultimately, their exceptionality cannot save them. His hope lies in the agency and talents of his characters—that despite these conditions, blacks continue to be creative, strong-willed and articulate. Focusing on the stories “Home” and “Father and Son,” this paper will discuss how Hughes uses seemingly fatalistic narratives to not only critique racism, but to give hope within these constraints. It will also briefly contrast Hughes’ views of social mobility with those of Zora Neale Hurston.

“Home” and the Subversive Quality of Presence

Hughes does not procrastinate in portraying the reality of demise when one chooses to be an “uppity nigger,” (a well-dressed, educated or gifted black), coined by the white antagonists in “Home” (36). As the second story, “Home” immediately causes the reader to “...

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