to have students recognize a type which persisted in the American tradition of humor.
: a class set of Langston Hughes’
The Best of Simple
(N.Y.: Hill and Wang, 1961)
Students will need to know the following words:
a) pun—a play on words of the same sound but with different meaning or application;
b) anecdote—a brief narrative of an interesting, often amusing incident or event;
c) metaphor—a figure of speech in which an idea literally denoting one situation is used in place of another to draw an unstated analogy;
d) the dozens—witty repartee whose origin is attributed to the Black culture; similar to the modern “rapping.”
e) “cracker-barrel” philosophy—ideas which ordinary folks expressed while sitting around a general store.
a) Read the foreword aloud, “Who is Simple?” p.vii-viii;
b) Read the explanation of his name (Jess B. Semple.)p.18;
c) Discuss by raising the following questions:
-do the students like the pun inherent in his name?
-where else in this unit of study have they noted “simple” people as the hero of an anecdote?
In addition to the obvious references from Franklin, Twain, Rogers,
, this short sequence might be introduced. It is from Josh Billings, whose wisdom is presumably concealed under misspelling:
“A hen is a darn phool, they was born so bi natur.
“When natur undertakes tew make a phool, she hits the mark the first time.
“Most of the animile kritters have instinkt, which is wuth more to them than reason would be, for instinkt don’t make enny blunders.
“If the animiles had reason, they would akt just as ridikilus as we men folks do.”(12, p.13)
-Do students know a “Simple? Give them plenty of time at this point to remember and reminsce.
-What cranks do they crank without knowing why they do?
Step 3: Assign two students to read the dialogue aloud in “Feet Live Their Own Life,” pp. 1-3. (The teacher should read the short section which is not in dialogue form)
After the reading point out:
(a) the tone of the dialogue, noting particularly that Simple ends with a dozen while denying it;
(b) the difference in speech patterns between Hughes (the character “I”) and Simple. Remind students Hughes is creating both characters.
What is the effect of the language switching on the characterization of the two men in the dialogue?
(c) what metaphor is embedded in the anecdote? Reinforce with Simple’s comment in the foreword that “white folks don’t tell colored folks what cranks crank.”
How do students feel about this idea? Relate it, if possible, to their earlier answers about their own unknown crankings.
Step 4: Assign for homework:
(a) Read “Present for Joyce,” pp.173-176.
Write an objective presentation of Hughes’ view.
Write an objective presentation of Simple’ view.
(b) Look up the origin of Jim Crow