‘Simple Prays A Prayer’ by Langston Hughes

Hughes, Langston 1950b

Simple Prays A Prayer by Langston Hughes, 1950

The magic trick:

Reveling in contradiction 

One of the beauties of the Simple stories is the rampant contradiction within. Case in point is “Simple Prays A Prayer.” His prayer in this story is beautiful. He talks of peace and love and kindness. He follows it up with a ridiculous complaint about marriage and a woman’s desire to make him feel bad about not having money and the need for war. But then the rant comes back around to religion, and he winds up making some incredibly insightful points about hypocritical Jim Crow Christians. It’s a whirlwind. And that’s quite a trick on Hughes’s part.

The selection:

“And, man, I felt bad. You know how long and how hard it took to get on WPA. Many a good man lost his woman in them dark days when that stuff about `I can’t give you anything but love’ didn’t go far. Now it looks like love is all I am going to have to share again. Do you reckon depression days is coming back?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I am not a sociologist.”

“You’s colleged,” said Simple. “Anyhow, it looks like every time I gets a little start, something happens. I was doing right well pulling down that fine defense check all during the war, then all of a sudden the war had to jump up and end!”

“If you wanted the war to continue just on your account, you are certainly looking at things from a selfish viewpoint.”

“Selfish!” said Simple. “You may think I am selfish when the facts is I am just hongry if I didn’t have a job. It looks like in peace time nobody works as much or gets paid as much as in a war. Is that clear?”

“Clear, but not right,” I said.

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