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On the road - Research Paper Example

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Summary
Langston Hughes's short story “On the Road,” is a tale of rich thematic layering. It tells the story of a black man named Sargeant who has fallen victim to the dreadful unemployment statistics of the Great Depression. So dreadful that it was estimated “that 17 percent of the white population and 38 percent of the black population could not support themselves without assistance” (Greenberg, 21)…
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On the road
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On the road

Download file to see previous pages... Perhaps the most obvious theme running through “On the Road,” is one of religion. When Sargeant first arrives in town he is turned away by the good Reverend Mr. Dorset. He feels the chill of racism and seeks sanctuary in a white man's church. This same church he breaks into just as police beat him on the head and he begins to hallucinate. Sargeant's hallucinations are telling. He saw Christ only in a glimpse through a soft, round window. Yet Christ becomes a central figure in his delusions. Not a traditional Christ, but a Christ burdened by the pain of religion. This is a metaphor that draws obviously on Hughes's own experiences with religion as an organization. Experiences that all but traumatized him as a child. In his autobiography, The Big Sea, Hughes relates his “salvation” at the age of twelve. Attending church with his aunt/guardian, he was placed in a situation of overwhelming social pressure to accept Jesus. He did this, though he did not feel any converting power. Afterwards, he wrote, That night, for the last time in my life but one-for I was a big boy twelve years old-I cried. I cried, in bed alone, and couldn't stop. I buried my head under the quilts, but my aunt heard me. She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come ino my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn't bear to tell her that I had lied. That I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn't seen Jesus, and that now I didn't believe there was a Jesus any more, since he didn't come to help me (Hughes, 21). This childhood trauma affects Hughes's story profoundly. He not only depicts Sargeant's interactions with religion in a cold, white, and distant way, but he also humanizes Christ's dismay at being held captive by the church. As if Christ may have been a wise prophet but not on interested in deriving a cult of personality from his name. A negative perception that only softened in Sargeant's mind when he was able to find refuge among the grayness of the hobo jungle. For Sargeant, who had been traumatized by the stony whiteness of the town, by white preachers, white churchgoers, and white cops, his escape to the outskirts, to that world where his color was less important than his employment status, offered mental refuge from the racial trauma of his youth. In the hobo, too, Hughes raises another theme, one of movement. According to Kenneth Allsop, a hobo “was homeless and unmarried. He freeloaded on the freight trains whose tracks he laid and whose tunnels he blasted. He lived in bunk houses or tents or jungle camps or city flophouses. He was a marginal, alienated man, capriciously used and discarded by a callous but dynamic system, yet he was proud of the mode he devised out of an imperative mobility. He was a unique and indigenous American product” (Allsop, Prefatory Note). The hobo was always on the move. “In one of his aspects he was the Ancient Mariner of this oceanic land, the albatross of failure hung about his neck” (Allsop, Prefatory Note). Hughes grabs hold of this theme, and references Biblical fables, when he walks Sargeant and Christ from the white town to the gray hobo jungle. Movement is not the only theme, either, that Hughes drew from the Great Depression setting of ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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