Langston Hughes\' Semple

Holli A. Ramsey Ramsey1
Lit 345
February 24, 1997

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
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many that help portray him as a simple man who has been both mentally and physically
broken-down by society but 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
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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.