Thursday Quotables – The Way of the White Folks
“Sit down and tell us what you’s heard, Sister Jenkins.”
“Course ‘baut Douglass. What else is anybody talking ‘bout nowadays?”
“Well, my daughter told me Douglass sister’s say they was in love.”
“Him and that white woman?”
“Yes. Douglass’ sister say it’s been going on ‘fore de woman got married.”
“Uh-huh! Then why didn’t he stop foolin’ with her after she got married? Bad enough, colored boy foolin’ ‘round a unmarried white woman, let alone a married one.”
“Douglass’s sister say they was in love.”
“Well, why did she marry the white man, then?”
“She’s white, ain’t she? And who wouldn’t marry a rich white man? Got his own farm, money and all, even if he were a widower with grown children gone to town. He give her everything she wanted, didn’t he?”
“Everything but the right thing.”
Took me about two lines to fall in love with Langston Hughes. The power of his prose is something unique. The way he reproduces spoken language in a way that expresses characters and setting is something I’ve rarely encountered and something I definitely envy as a writer. He can express a lot with such few words.
The excerpt above is a morsel from the short story Mother and Child from the The Ways of the White Folks collection, but you can easily get the entire story and even part of the setting from it. It’s really like I’m sitting with these women, talking about someone I know. This is what I really love about Hughes’ art.
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Fantastic! I’ve never read anything by Langston Hughes. I’ll have to track down this story.
There are a lot of fantastic stories by Hughes out there, and many different collections. My favourite story so far is from this same collection – The Way of the White Folks – the title is ‘Father and Son’, and it’s about a plantation owner, the black woman who’s also his mistress and the near-white son they had together (well, they had many children, but the story is really just about one of them). Absolutely POWERFUL. The dynamics between these three characters alone are something worth reading the story: complex and realistic and unforgiving. It seriously blew me away.
I love that extract, like you say it feels like you’re sitting and listening to two real people talking. I’ll have to track down some of Hughes’ work, I hadn’t heard of him before.