Berry is about a young black man called Millberry Jones who is employed at Dr. Renfield’s Home for Crippled Children. He was reluctantly employed by Mrs. Osborn, the housekeeper, because the Scandinavian kitchen boy had left without notice, leaving her no choice in hiring Berry. Her reluctance to hire Berry stemmed from his race, which initiated questions such as where he would sleep, as well as how the other employees would react to the presence of a Negro. She had a meeting with Dr. Renfield and they decided to hire Millberry on a reduced salary. He was overworked and underpaid, but took solace in the children whom he loved. An unfortunate incident occurred, however, where a child fell from his wheelchair while in the care of Berry. The result was that Berry was fired and given no salary for the week that he had worked.
Millbury Jones (Berry)
A Black male, approximately 20 years old.
Described as good natured and strong.
Poor and uneducated.
Very observant and intuitive about people and places.
Very good with children due to his gentleness.
The housekeeper at the children’s home.
Rumoured to be in love with Dr. Renfield.
Very high handed with her staff, but docile with Dr. Renfield.
Displays racist characteristics in subtle forms.
Rumoured to have romantic affairs with his female staff.
Berry observes that the Home is ‘Doc Renfield’s own private gyp game’ (Hughes, p. 162), meaning that he runs his establishment for his own profit, instead of a desire to take genuine care of the children. He is blatantly racist.
This theme is apparent when Berry was being considered for employment at the Home. Mrs. Osborn was concerned about where Berry would sleep, implying that he could not sleep with the white servants because he was considered to be beneath them. His salary was also cut due to his race, and he was overworked, with no discussions of days off, ‘everybody was imposing on him in that taken-for-granted way white folks do with Negro help.’ (Hughes, 162). Even more importantly, when the unfortunate accident occurred with the child, there was no attempt at discerning what led to the incident, but blame was laid on the obvious person – Berry. As a result, he was relieved of his job in a hail of racist slurs. The students will be placed in their peer groups to analyze various aspects of the story.
The theme of oppression is expressed repetitively throughout this story. White workers and superiors kept expecting Milberry to do more and more. Milberry’s response to these requests was a quiet acceptance without bitterness because he was happy and thankful enough to have this job and food. In the story Milberry found happiness in helping the crippled children at play during his brief rest period. At first the nurses were hesitant whether they should allow it or not. At the end of the story the nurses had changed their mind frame about Berry and would come looking for and demanding his immediate help.
In his typical nature in responding to and accepting their demand he unknowingly caused his own demise. While Berry was helping a boy in a wheelchair down the stairs, due to know fault of Berry’s own doing, the boy fell out of the chair onto the grass and the wheelchair onto the walk. In the fall the boy was not hurt but the wheelchairs back was snapped off. In this scene Langston Hughes uses the wheelchair as a symbol of Milberry’s undoing. The wheelchair’s falling represents Berry’s falling from the grace of the white people’s acceptance. The snapped back of the wheelchair foreshadows Berry’s immediate termination of employment. Even though it was the white nurses responsibility and job they quickly and gladly placed all the blame for the accident upon Berry. This truly exemplifies the use of oppression of white people over blacks.