Langston Hughes, a towering figure in American literature, is certainly best known for his poetry. His nonfiction work, and also his ill-fated dramatic collaboration with Zora Neale Hurston, Mule Bone, also hold places of prominence in the study of African American literature. Nonetheless, his 1933 work The Ways of White Folks stands as a significant literary achievement in its own right. With its stunning array of characters and its vivid depiction of the often explosive nature of social contact between black and white Americans in the first half of the 20th century, this collection of stories is another example of Hughes's prolific and varied contribution to the artistic output of the Harlem Renaissance.
Instead of one storyline and one set of characters, Hughes gives us 14 diverse and seemingly unconnected episodes. No geographic location is common to all, but throughout The Ways of White Folks, the influence of Hughes's own experience as an artist during the Harlem Renaissance and his close, often intimate contact with the white world and its money, power, and patronage can be seen. Because of its unity of theme, some critics consider the work a novel. In both form and content, Ways holds a strong similarity to Jean Toomer's Cane, written a decade earlier than Hughes's work. Though Ways lacks Toomer's multigenre approach, Hughes does experiment with narrative point of view in this work, and according to David Michael Nifong, he "meets with varying degrees of success" (94). Hughes's book is at its best when well-developed African-American characters view the hypocrisy and caprice of the affluent white Americans around them, in episodes such as "Slave on the Block," "A Good Job Gone," and "Poor Little Black Fellow." The more experimental sections, as far as narration goes, include "Passing," "Red-Headed Baby," and "Little Dog."
Hughes also creates several