On the Road by Langston Hughes

It is one’s experiences that define one’s attitude and it is also true of the story On the Road. It is born out of the author’s own pain and suffering as a black man, said to have been inspired by his visit to Reno in 1934 (Miller et al. 6). It is an account of the scars left behind by discrimination which he had experienced first-hand. On the Road does not really have much of a storyline. It begins and ends quite abruptly. The appeal lies in its aesthetic simplicity (Pavlovski 105), the feel it causes and the emotions it evokes in the mind of the reader. It is experienced rather than read. Hughes, as the writer of the story, accomplishes this by skilful use of metaphors and imagery besides careful choice of language and ‘everyman’ characters like Sargeant (Miller 6). The theme of the story raises fundamental questions pertaining to the nature of religion (Christianity in particular) and its self-proclaimed sanctity. What religion approves man’s inhumanity to man? Was Jesus a white man? Did he have any ‘human pieces of night’ among his followers when he was alive? In his teachings, did he say anything about discrimination? Did he endorse it? Did he condemn it? If he were to witness the racist society in the United States of America, what would be his stand? Who would his sympathies be with? How many kinds of churches can we have? In what way is a white folks’ church different from others? Can we really love our neighbours as ourselves? How many Christians are really Christian? Do the millions who go to church every Sunday ever care to ponder over these questions? Why do we need god? Is it because we want someone to take responsibility for all the nonsensical things we do? Is religion a pretext to justify and rationalize our blunders? Is religion then a cleverly devised man-made instrument for control and subjugation of one section by another? All these are, apparently, idle thoughts and not of any consequence. Hughes seeks and attempts to raise and subtly answer these very idle questions in his story. The church being pulled down ultimately stands for the fall of the hypocritical values (of the man-made artificial system) that have for long been accepted and perpetuated. So Sargeant feels he buried the parsonage and Reverend Mr. Dorset who represented those false values and he laughs. It is also symbolic of Christ’s emancipation from the clutches of a judgmental system and people that he was explicitly fed up with. Towards the end of the story, Sargeant wonders where Christ had gone. giving the indication of his belief that Christ is in his favour. He had enough proof of it already. For the priest, any other name would fit just as well, but Hughes names him Dorset, a word bearing resemblance to the sound of door-shut. That is an example of the writer’s craft. The tone in which Hughes progresses the story is astonishingly diplomatic and not in the least resentful. Particularly, the characterization of Sargeant is peculiar. On the one hand he appears to be completely tired, exhausted, desperate, angry and without hope. On the other, he never gives up, never stops his fight for survival. More importantly, he never seems to lose his balance either in terms of what he says or in terms of his behaviour.