"On the Road" by Langston Hughes is a short story about a strong, but poor black man named Sargeant seeking food and shelter in the middle of a snow storm in a small, white town in Kansas. He seeks shelter at a church, but the doors are locked, so he knocks the doors down. The church ends up falling down, he dreams of walking with Jesus, and then he ends up in jail. This essay focuses on several aspects in this story, such as the continuous shut doors, the church falling down, the walk with Jesus, then him ending up in jail dazed and confused, and whether or not any of this pertains to Langston Hughes’ life. The theme of this story is basically racism; it is supported by several literary devices such as symbolism, setting, point of view, allusion, and other elements.
This story is filled with symbols. The first symbol was the snow and how it represented white people. Sargeant is oblivious in how he, “never even noticed the snow” just as he is to the white people shouting at him (Meyer 574). The shut doors represent the unwelcome ness towards him by white people because he is black. This was evident when the reverend said, “I’m sorry, no!” and shut the door (Meyer 574). The church falling represents Sargeant’s strong body falling and being torn down by the cops. The church falling on the people represents God’s disappointment that the people did not help him, instead they yelled at him. Sargeant represents the African American society as a whole and how they were not accepted by the white people in the 1950’s.
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The symbols Hughes uses have a lot to do with his own life. He talks about Sargeant being oblivious to the snow (white people) because he was the same way. He grew up around many white people and he had to ignore their racist comments. The shut doors (unwelcome ness) play a role in his life also. Since he was raised around many white people, he often felt unwelcome because he was black. The church falling (God’s disappointment) most likely happened in his own life as well. He feels things happened in his life that proves God’s disappointment with the way white people treated black people. I feel that Langston portrays himself as Sargeant in the story. Sargeant represents the black community and Langston feels as if he did earlier in his life also.
“The elements of setting are time, place, and social environment that frame the character.”(Meyer 150). The time in which the story took place is the 1930’s, during the depression. This is established in the second line of the story, “one early evening during the depression” (Meyer 574). It is set in a small, white town in Kansas, most likely during the winter. The social environment of the story is very isolated; the type of town is one with few people, mostly white, and the others living on the streets. It is proven that there are a lot of homeless people in the town when Sargeant explains that the Relief Shelter “was full, the beds were always gone and supper was over” (Meyer 574).
The setting in the story is very relevant in Langston’s own life. The story takes place in a small, white town in Kansas; Hughes was born and raised in a small, white town in Kansas. Coincidence? I think not. The story takes place in the 1930’s; when he was about thirty years old. The setting helps support my thoughts about Langston portraying himself as Sargeant.
Point of view plays a huge role in the theme of the story. Langston Hughes acts as an omniscient narrator while writing the story. He knows everything about the characters and can tell all the characters’ thoughts and feelings as well as what they say and do. This is shown when Hughes tells about how Sargeant feels and what he sees. “Maybe he sensed it [snow], cold, wet, sticking to his jaws, wet on his black hands, sopping in his shoes.”(Meyer 574). The reason Langston knows everything about the character, Sargeant, because it is he, himself in the story. Langston had to go through all the same things as Sargeant, not being accepted, poor and hungry, and maybe even going to jail.
Allusion is another literary device that is used it the story. Langston writes about how Sargeant “grabbed for one of the tall stone pillars beside the door” and then the cops beat him over the head with their clubs, as the church falls down (Meyer 575). “Sargeant got out from under the church and went walking on up the street with the stone pillar on his shoulder.” (Meyer 575). This allusion refers to an event in the Bible; Samson “took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.” (Judges 16:3). I feel the reason Hughes includes this in his story proves that he was familiar with the Bible; he was a religious man.
This story has a direct relationship with Langston Hughes’s own life. There are so many aspects that he writes about that have to do with his past. I enjoyed this story, although it was somewhat difficult to interpret. I especially like how he includes a religious side of him in the story. Overall, I feel that Langston portrays himself as Sargeant and he is pretty much telling a story of his own life. Although it might not be exactly true, I feel it had something to do with an event that happened in Langston’s life. I feel this story applies to the world today. Racism is not as horrific as it was when this story was written, but it still exists; black people are still treated unfairly to this day.
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