Berry by Langston Hughes
In Berry by Langston Hughes we have the theme of connection, racism, dishonesty, greed, acceptance, compassion and responsibility. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Hughes may be exploring the theme of connection. Milberry through his efforts at the Home manages to connect with the young disabled children. It is as though he understands their difficulties and rather than ignore them as others do. He helps them to the best of his abilities. Spending most of his time after he has finished working playing with the children. Symbolically Milberry’s connection with the children may also be important as Hughes could be using the physical disabilities of the children to highlight the social disability that Milberry has to endure due to his skin colour. Everybody, apart from the children, takes advantage of Milberry. He is paid less than the previous kitchen-boy simply because of his skin colour and those who work in the home are prepared to see Milberry do their work rather than do the work for themselves. If anything Hughes may be highlighting how dishonest those in the Home actually are. Something that is clear to Milberry and the reader by way of the fact that the children are treated so badly.
If anything the main purpose of the Home is not to take care of the children but rather to make a profit. Which may suggest that those in charge of the home are monetizing the misfortune of others for their own gain. Something which some readers may suggest is an example of greed. It may also be a case that Milberry is wise enough to know that he is being taken advantage of. He appears to have a good insight into each of the employees at the Home and the reader leans towards Milberry’s assertions about them. Though Milberry looks unfavourably towards others he is not wrong in his assessment of each individual’s character. The fact that Milberry is the only black person at the Home may also be important as Hughes could be suggesting that Milberry due to his skin colour is in the minority. That he faces an uphill battle when it comes to the other employees in the home. If this is the case then Hughes is again placing a spotlight on racism and how widespread it may actually have been at the time the story was written.
The fact that Milberry never complains about the position he is put in by the other employees might also be important as there is a sense that Milberry due to his skin colour accepts the role that he must play in the Home. Something that would have been common at the time for many black people. Not only did black people have to take a lower wage than white people but they also had to accept that white people considered themselves to be superior and as such would dictate to black people. Hughes may also be suggesting that Milberry only stays at the Home for one reason. He knows what it is like to be hungry and does not wish to experience that feeling again. Though he knows he is being taken advantage of he would prefer to be in employment than not having a job at all. Also Milberry is attached to the children in the Home. If anything Milberry is the only one who feels for them or cares about them. This may be important as not only does it suggest that Milberry has the ability to connect with the children but he also is compassionate enough to understand their pain.
The end of the story is also interesting as Hughes appears to be exploring the theme of responsibility. Milberry is blamed for the breaking of the wheelchair yet he is not responsible. The reader left feeling that should Milberry be white than Dr Renfield would have accepted that the breaking of the wheelchair was an accident. How dishonest Dr Renfield actually may be is noticeable by the fact that he fires Milberry and deducts eight dollars from his wages. Leaving Milberry with no money or no prospects. Which may be the point that Hughes is attempting to make. It is possible that he is suggesting that black people at the time where reliant on white people in order to survive. By firing Milberry for no good reason Dr Renfield has created an obstacle for Milberry. The children too will be at a loss. Something that does not seem to register with Dr Renfield and further suggests to the reader that the Home is being run for profit. It is also interesting that nobody helps Milberry or intervenes. It is as though Milberry is being judged not only for something he did not do but by his skin colour too. If anything there are two injustices in the story. How the children are treated and how Milberry is treated.