Yesterday Will Make You Cry, Reflection

By on February 27th, 2018 in Blog Posts


Jimmy is introduced to the reader as a convict with a deliberately calloused exterior,  which he uses to avoid emotional distraction and responsibility for his actions. We are introduced to him as he is introduced to the prison, inexperienced and young, but guarded and cautious. Immediately, he is introduced as a sexual being, one who is repulsed by the “touch of Red’s bare arm” and repulsed by the sexuality that it arises in himself (28). Jimmy’s sexuality is complicated: he is queer, but his own queerness initially repulses him.

As his life in the prison evolves, so does his sexuality. He initially fears being seen as a “boy-girl,” and he tries to avoid anyone thinking him weak. However, as he meets men who attract him in a deeper way, he becomes more comfortable putting his sexuality on display. His love for Lively becomes known by much of the prisoners, and he values the relationship higher than he values his relationship with his mother or father – measured by the quantifiable resource that he has access to and that those he loves need – money.

When Jimmy is not in love, when he loses Lively and connections with other prisoners, he draws into himself and fears he cannot survive his sentence. However, when he is in love, particularly with Rico, he fears that his love will prevent him from focusing on his freedom.

Rico helps Jimmy, more than any other lover, return to his humanity – to a humanity that he fears within himself. Rico helps Jimmy heal. “Do you dream?” Rico asks him, inquiring about both his actual dreams and his aspirations. Jimmy cannot tear down his defenses for Rico or for himself. “The trouble with you is you have too much imagination,” he tells Rico in another discussion (299).

In Chester Himes’ writing, Jimmy comes alive when he is in love, and so does Himes’ writing. His writing is almost monotonous in the first section. “That happened,” Himes repeats in a consistent drawl that outlines event after event, highlighting few detail and boring the reader. After Rico and Jimmy realize that their time together is limited, Himes writes, “It stained their relationship with a hopeless, futile desperation, as if it was only borrowed for a space of time and would in the end have to be returned.” It’s as if, when Jimmy is in love, Himes is too, and his writing becomes more animated and imaginative.

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  1. Hi Charlene,
    I really like your reflection–your interpretation of his emerging sexuality, and your observation of his recurrent alternation between extremes of states is interesting, such as that between attraction and repulsion in the sexuality of his encounters with other men, or how the presence or absence of love so severely alters his priorities regarding freedom and of bearing continued incarceration. Very real.
    Yours is a very humanist reading of the character’s actions, and one that is just as real even though it is so different from what first impacted me in the story.

  2. Hi Charlene,

    I love this sentence: “In Chester Himes’ writing, Jimmy comes alive when he is in love, and so does Himes’ writing.” It really is as if Jimmy’s pulse quickens–and so does Himes’s–when he meets and falls in love with Rico. The attraction/repulsion is described with such honest passion. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this, and I find it astonishing that this novel is all but absent in American literature courses, African American literature courses, queer literature courses, gender courses, prison literature courses. I’ll never forget the experience of reading it, being stunned at every page. Best, Cathy

  3. When you say, “We are introduced to him as he is introduced to the prison” it stirs a feeling that I had as I read “Yesterday Will make You Cry.” That feeling is that we are going through this WITH Jimmy. He doesn’t know this but he isn’t alone. We experience everything he experiences. From beginning to end we think with him. We think he must remain tough to make it in prison because that is what we have been taught. We may even think he must withhold his true identity. We fall in love when he falls in love. Chester Himes really helps to put us in Jimmy’s shoes which is one point that I find fascinating about this text.

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