I’ve been working in earnest on Chester Himes’s 1945 novel If He Hollers Let Him Go over the last few weeks. His first published novel, If He Hollers… is set in WWII Los Angeles, and it focuses on Bob Jones, a black shipyard worker at the fictional Atlas Shipping. We follow Bob over several days as he experiences the complicated racial politics of wartime LA, and specifically the downward spiral of consequences that flow from him talking back to a southern white female colleague who abusively refuses to work alongside him.
In a sense my entire thesis is an explication of a single passage, one of the most striking, in Kevin Lynch’s classic 1960 work of urban planning theory, The Image of the City:
To become completely lost is perhaps a rather rare experience for most people in the modern city. […] But let the mishap of disorientation once occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked to our sense of balance and well-being. The very word “lost” in our language means much more than simple geographical uncertainty; it carries overtones of utter disaster. (p. 4)
The primary concern of Lynch’s work was city design – with how we might build or remodel cities to be highly legible, thereby minimising their tendency to disorientate residents and making them more pleasant, satisfying places in which to live. His evocative descriptions of the trauma of urban disorientation are the point of departure for my own analysis of Los Angeles fiction and cinema.
It’s becoming clear that one of the central themes of my next thesis chapter will be mobility — or more specifically, the restrictions imposed on the mobility of black Angelenos, and the representation of this immobility in works of fiction and cinema spanning the post-war / mid-century / civil rights eras.