Soul Food in Langston Hughes' "Simple’s Uncle Sam"

Presentation (Elaboration), 2010

9 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. A short biographical overview of Langston Hughes’ life

3. Simple’s Uncle Sam

4. Soul Food
4.1. Historical background
4.2. Ingredients

5. (Soul) food in the stories of Simple’s Uncle Sam
5.1. Empty Houses
5.2. Haircuts and Paris
5.3. Soul Food
5.4. Swinging High

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This paper is going to deal with the poet and author Langston Hughes and his stories published under the title Simple’s Uncle Sam during the era of Modernism and Postmodernism.

I am going to begin with a short biographical overview about Langston Hughes’ life. The information used, is taken from the Wikipedia website entry about Langston Hughes ( but can also be found on more reliable websites (;

Since this paper is part of the course ‘As American as Apple Pie’ which is concerned with the meaning of food scenes in different texts, I will present the topic of ‘soul food’. I am going to explain where soul food has its roots and what it exactly is.

Further I am going to show what important role soul food or food in general plays in the extracts of Simple’s Uncle Sam and how it refers to the ethnical and cultural background of African Americans.

2. A short biographical overview of Langston Hughes’ life

Langston Hughes was born as James Mercer Langston Hughes on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri and died at the age of 65 on May 22, 1967 in New York City.

He was an citizen of the United States of America with parents who were both mixed raced being descendants of African Americans, European Americans and Native Americans.

Born into a politically very active family, he was raised with a sense of racial pride to be a Black American.

In high school, he discovered his love for books and he began writing short texts. Attending the Lincolns University in Pennsylvania afterwards, which is known to be a historically black university, he got a Bachelor degree in 1929.

Most time of his life he was an author, having his writing period to have taken place from 1926 to 1964.

He moved to Harlem, New York and became known as a famous writer of the Harlem Renaissance and as one of the earliest innovators of the new literary art form of jazz poetry.

Concentrating his poetry and fiction generally on views of the working class lives of African Americans in the United States, he presented a certain pride of African American identity and spoke out for keeping this pride instead of assimilating to the norms of White Americans.

During his writing period and also after his death many black writers considered his writings.

3. Simple’s Uncle Sam

During his writing period, Langston Hughes wrote several books (for example: Simple Speaks His Mind, 1950; Simple Takes a Wife, 1953; Simple Stakes a Claim, 1957; Simple’s Uncle Sam, 1965) that had a main character named Mr. Jesse Semple or, as a nickname, Simple who is an African American.

This character was supposed to be the voice of African Americans during the Jim Crow era while racial segregation was widely discussed.

Since the figure ‘Uncle Sam’ is a symbol for the United States, the title Simple’s Uncle Sam points to a certain view how the character Simple looks upon the USA.

The contexts of these little stories are the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1060s.

4. Soul Food

Soul food is a certain kind of food with special ingredients and seasonings relating to the African American culture with a main stress on the southern states of the USA.

4.1. Historical background

The origins of soul food are to be found in times of slavery in the United States. The black slaves got for food just the unwanted and cheap groceries, often those ones which the white masters didn’t like.

This image of soul food, to be a food of the slaves or afterwards one of the discriminated Blacks, changed during the 1960s. Soul food became a part of the ethnic identity of Black US-Americans and special soul food restaurants were opened. Soul food began to be something fashionable and to be not just for the African Americans any more.

4.2. Ingredients

Since the groceries had to be cheap, the slaves used what they could get, for example pig feet, chitterlings, chicken liver, black-eyed peas or collard greens. They used a lot of fat and salt to make these ingredients tasty so that soul food is known to be a very heavy, fatty kind of food.

Contrary to the background of the African Americans, soul food does not consist just of an African cuisine which uses the seasoning okra. In fact, it is also influenced by European and Native American cooking. Corn pudding is an example, since the corn is an ingredient of the Native American cuisine.

5. (Soul) food in the stories of Simple’s Uncle Sam

The chapters from the book Simple’s Uncle Sam which were important for the course are Empty Houses, Haircuts and Paris, Swinging High and Soul Food. Every chapter has its own scenes wherein food, especially soul food, plays an important role.

5.1. Empty Houses

This chapter is concerned with ice cream, beer and (Sunday) dinner.

Simple tells from his childhood. He tells how he was a little boy and a white man gave him ice cream on a hot day. When he came home and reported that he got an ice cream cone for free from a white man his relatives did not believe him and punished him for lying. They cannot imagine a white man who gives a little black boy something for free. Here one can see the thoughts of the African Americans of this time which are still influenced by the impressions of slavery. They do not believe that there are white people who do something without wanting something back.

Simple in contrast does believe it and he does not “hate all white folks” (Hughes, 12). For him this balance of life (cf. Hughes, 13) – receiving and giving back – is not necessary; he is willing to give without demanding for something else. He uses the beer someone gives him as an example that life can function without this balance if the gift “comes from the heart” (Hughes, 13).

Although he does not hate every white man, he does not feel excepted in the white man’s world either. He was raised in a white system wherein even the bible cards showed a white Jesus (cf. Hughes, 14). He talks about the loneliness of a (Sunday) dinner if there is no one who welcomes you and says “You’re mine” (Hughes, 15). The food can be as good as possible but if there is no one he belongs to, it is worth nothing.


Excerpt out of 9 pages


Soul Food in Langston Hughes' "Simple’s Uncle Sam"
University of Wuppertal
Cultural Studies: As American as Apple Pie
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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soul, food, langston, hughes, simple’s, uncle
Quote paper
Carolin Kotthaus (Author), 2010, Soul Food in Langston Hughes' "Simple’s Uncle Sam", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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