The Return of Simple

The Return of Simple

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by Langston Hughes

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Jesse B. Simple, Simple to his fans, made weekly appearances beginning in 1943 in Langston Hughes' column in the Chicago Defender. Simple may have shared his readers feelings of loss and dispossession, but he also cheered them on with his wonderful wit and passion for life.

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Jesse B. Simple, Simple to his fans, made weekly appearances beginning in 1943 in Langston Hughes' column in the Chicago Defender. Simple may have shared his readers feelings of loss and dispossession, but he also cheered them on with his wonderful wit and passion for life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hughes (1902-1967), whose work accelerated the recognition of African American literature, is remembered mostly for his poetry. But Hughes also touched the minds of millions through the brief narrations of the fictional Jesse B. Semple, or ``Simple,'' which first appeared in 1943 in his column in the Chicago Defender and, later, in the New York Post. Here, edited by a teacher at Spelman College, is an enlightening collection of these social commentaries. Half of the selections have never appeared in book form; the others are drawn from five previous Simple collections, all out of print. Harper groups her choices into four sections: ``Women in Simple's Life''; ``Race, Riots, Police, Prices, and Politics''; ``Africa and Black Pride''; and ``Parting Lines.'' Topics range from criticism of superficial beauty (``Wigs, Women and Falsies'') to animal rights (``Money and Mice'') and the equation of the word ``black'' with ``evil'' in American slang (``That Word Black''). Throughout, the persistence of some issues from the 1940s through the present is striking and infuriating. In ``Population Explosion,'' for example, written in 1965, Simple criticizes the racist underpinnings of birth-control and sterilization proposals, while in ``Liberals Need a Mascot,'' from 1949, he takes an insightful jab at the hypocritical politically correct. Also discussing Pan Africanism, children's rights, socioeconomic imbalances and African American animosity toward the police, Hughes, through the sometimes hyperbolic but always critical commentary of Jesse B. Semple, challenges the widespread notion of the unsophisticated ``common man.'' Welcome back, Simple. (July)
Library Journal
All five books featuring Jesse B. Semple (``Simple''), the character Hughes created for his weekly Chicago Defender column, are out of print. Half the stories here are drawn from those books; the remainder have never before appeared in book form.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

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“THE first time I was in love,” said Simple, “I was in love stone-dead-bad—because I had it, and it had me, and it was the most! Love! When I look back on it now, that girl couldn’t have been good-looking. When I look back on it now, she couldn’t have been straight. And when I look back on it now, I must have been simple—which I were. But then I did not know what I know today. At that time I had not been beat, betrayed, misled, and bled by womens. I thought then, if I just had that girl for mine and she had me for hers, heaven on earth would be.”

“Why do you choose to recall all that tonight in this bar?” I asked.

“Because I am thinking on my youthhood,” said Simple.

“How old exactly are you?”

“I am going into my something-or-other year,” said Simple. “Tonight is nearly my birthday, and if you are my friend, you will buy me a drink.”

“I have bought you so many drinks on nights which were not your birthday before! Anyhow, what’ll it be—beer?”

“Same old thing,” said Simple. “I do not want to go home to Joyce with whiskey on my breath. Gimme beer. Joyce is my wife, my life, my one and all, my first to last, and the last woman I intend to clasp! But sometimes I still think about that first little old girl I were really in love with down in Virginia when I were nothing but a boy. She were older than me, that girl, but only by a year. She were darker than me, too, if that be possible. And she were sweeter than a berry on the vine. My Aunt Lucy did not approve of her because her mama had been put out of church on account of sin. But I loved that girl! I’ll tell the world I did!”

“I gather your romance came to naught,” I said.

“Our romance came to naught, but she weights two hundred and ten pounds now, so I have heard, and has been married twice,” said Simple. “But she were the first person except Aunt Lucy who made me feel like somebody wanted me in this world, relatives included. Everybody else was always telling me, ‘I am your mother, but your father went off and left you on my hands!’ Or else, ‘I am your father, but your mother ain’t no good!’ Or, ‘Your poor old aunt loves you, Jesse, but your papa nor mama ain’t sent a dime here to feed you since last March.’

“But this girl ain’t never said nothing like that. She just said, ‘Jesse B., you was meant for me.’

“I said, ‘Baby, let’s get with it.’ And we did, until the old folks broke it up.

“I had nothing, neither did she. So her mama said, ‘Let my daughter be.’

“My Aunt Lucy allowed as how I were too young to be going steady, anyhow—that I must be getting too big for my britches, telling her I knew my own mind. About that time they sent me to stay with Uncle Tige out in the country, so I did not see Lorna Jean any more, until I were passing through Richmond on my way North, running away from where I ain’t been back since. At which time, I were only interested in getting North. Now here I is this evening, tonight on my birthday eve, remembering a girl I have not seen in twenty-five years, but who were once my sputnik. I wonder do Lorna Jean ever think of me as I think of her, and do she have remembrances?

“Whilst I were living with Uncle Tige, I met another girl named Elroyce. I did not fall in love with her—just sort of liked her a little bit. She were fun to go around with. Once I took her to a dance, and when I took her home, her door were locked. In that day and time down in Virginia, nobody locked doors, there being no robbers then. But her mama had locked her door, lights out, house dark. It looked like nobody lived there, house empty, as if she did not have a daughter who had gone to a dance. It were embarrassing to that young girl to have to wake up them old folks to get in. Besides, it was not that late. That young girl’s parents told her to be home at midnight. It were only just a little after one o’clock when we got there. That music was so good we forgot about time.

“It might maybe have been my fault we was late, because her mama told me I could take that girl out, but she said, ‘Boy, you get my chile back home here by twelve o’clock. If you don’t, it will be you and me!’ The way things turned out, it were me and her. That old lady tried to ruin my life.”

“The night of the dance?” I asked.

“No, not the night of the dance,” said Simple; “nine months later.”

“Oh!” I said.

“It were worse than ‘oh,’” said Simple, “because I had not touched that girl. I were just a young teen-age boy myself. All I did was kiss Elroyce once or twice on the way home from that dance, from which we walked in the night in the springtime in the sweet and scented air. But the next week, I fell for another girl—you know how young folks is. Yet come that following fall, Elroyce’s mama sent for me.

“‘Is you the father of her chile?’

“‘What child?’

“‘You see my daughter, don’t you? Her chile.’

“‘No, ma‘am.’

“‘Don’t lie,’ says Mama. ‘Don’t you lie to me about Elroyce!’

“I do not know why they always assumes the man is lying. It turned out that girl were secretly in love with me, so Elroyce told her mama I were the father of her child. Before God, I swear to this day I were not. It could not be. I had not touched her. But I left town. That is when I come North to Baltimore. It were not my offspring.”

“Why bring up such unpleasant memories tonight?”

“Because her child would be twenty-five years old this year, and I wonder what he looks like.”

“How do you know it was a boy?” I asked.

“It would have been a boy if I was its father,” said Simple. “I would not know what to do with a girt—daughter—was I to have a girl—when she got teen-age. I would be afraid of springtime and dances and being out late for her, too, like that girl’s parents was, if I was a father. But I would not never lock my door on no child of mine, no matter how late they come home. The home door, the door of home, should always be open always—else do not call it home. Rich folks’ doors is locked. White folks’ doors is locked. But the door to home should never be. If I had a child that stayed out all night and all day and the next day and all week, I would not lock my door against her—or him—be he boy or girl, I would not lock the door.”

“Since you are not a parent, you are just theorizing,” I said. “The hard realities of how to control teen-age children in this day and age baffle most people. I am sure they would baffle you.”

“I baffles not easy,” said Simple. “I remember how when I were in my teens, my folks did not so much lock their doors at night, but they locked their hearts. They did not try to understand me. Old folks in them days was a thousand miles and a thousand years away from their children, anyhow. I lived in the same house—but not with them, if you get what I mean. I do not believe, in this day and time, there is such a high wall between old and young. Do you think so?”

“Yes,” I said, “I think there is—and always will be. Unfortunately, the gulf between the generations is a perennial one. Take rock and roll: the old folks hate it, the young folks love it.”

“I must not be very old, then,” said Simple. “I like rock and roll myself.”

“Perhaps you are just retarded,” I said.

“Which is better,” said Simple, “than being discarded. I wish me and my wife had seven children.”

“Why?” I said.

“So we could always keep an open door,” said Simple.

Copyright © 1994 by Ramona Bass and Arnold Rampersad, executors of the estate of Langston Hughes

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