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The Blues I’m Playing Summary 

Summary of The Blues I’m Playing by Langston Hughes

In “The Blues I’m Playing”, Langston Hughes portrays the relationship between a middle-aged, wealthy, widowed white woman, Mrs. Dora. Ellsworth, and a talented African American pianist Oceola Jones. And the conflict that arises from the difference in their views on music, art, and love. Langston illustrates the themes of expression of art and racism throughout the five parts of the story with Oceola, as the protegee and Mrs. Ellsworth, as the patron in central characters.

The Blues symbolizes Oceola’s love and passion for Jazz. The song when played expresses all her emotions and distress bottled up from the beginning of the story. The song represents her strong will and determination to stick to her identity and expression.


 The Blues I’m Playing | Summary


Oceola Jones is studying music in Paris and Mrs. Ellsworth is taking care of all her expenditures. Oceola Jones is a young pianist who supported herself before having financial aid from Mrs.Ellsworth, by teaching piano to her pupils, rehearsing a church choir, and playing for colored house parties in Harlem. 

 Mrs. Ellsworth is a widow with no children of her own and she lives as a patron of arts and supports artists. She is driven by beauty. except she is sometimes confused if it’s the creator or the creation that she finds beautiful. 

 Oceola is noticed and recommended to Mrs. Ellsworth by the pastor of the church who is also a white music critic, Ormond Hunter. She wasn’t interested in playing music for an elderly lady who was a stranger to her but was later persuaded by Mr. Hunter. One afternoon she visits Mrs. Ellsworth. She is welcomed by Mrs.Ellsworth’s butler who was warned of her coming. Mrs. Ellsworth is fascinated by Oceola because she had never met a black artist. She immediately treats Oceola as a “protegee ” by asking her too many questions that “she would not dare ask anyone else at a first meeting”. Oceola plays a selection of St. Louis Blues for Mrs. Ellsworth before she leaves for another event. 



 The second section named “The period of Oceola” serves as the beginning of one of the most interesting experiences of Mrs. Ellsworth. Mrs. Ellsworth takes more and more interest in Oceola’s work and keeps on financing her even though Oceola doesn’t ask for or need any. 

 Oceola keeps a certain distance from her because of her continuous interrogation and her desire to offer her help for “art’s sake”. She gets more skeptical when Mrs. Ellsworth insists on Oceola for information not only regarding her background but also her personal life.  

 Mrs. Ellsworth gets some significant information regarding Oceola. Her stepfather used to play the band in picnics, dances, and barbecues and her mother used to play the organ in the church as well as a big piano brought by the deacon. Oceola played by ear for a long time until her mother taught her notes and later she learned to play the organ, and a cornet as well. She got her techniques from her school piano teacher. She now lives in a tiny apartment with a man, named Pete Williams and the man doesn’t pay Oceola any rent. He is a smart fellow who works as a Pullman porter but plans to get into medical school. 

 Mrs. Ellsworth decides to take all of Oceola’s financial responsibilities. She will be covering all her living expenses. Mrs. Ellsworth sends Oceola a check the same evening to prove herself. Mrs. Ellsworth later keeps herself occupied with enquiring about Oceola. She asks Hunter’s maid to collect information regarding the man in her apartment. She tells her housekeeper to order the book “Nigger Heaven”, by Carl Van Vechten because she doesn’t know enough about dark people and Oceola’s environment. Mrs. Ellsworth thinks about what gowns will look good on Oceola and visits her dressmaker the next morning to know what colors look good on black people. 



 Mrs. Ellsworth gets to know about Pete from what Hunter is informed by his maid. His maid and Oceola go to the same church. She knew what everybody said about Oceola in the church. 

 Hearing about Pete, Mrs. Ellsworth creates a plan to take charge of Oceola. She makes up her mind to remove Pete from Oceola’s life and take Oceola out of Harlem. One day Mrs. Ellsworth offers Oceola to drive her to her apartment as an excuse to have a peek into her room. She insists on seeing Oceola’s apartment and gets inside uninvited. She says Oceola has to move out of her apartment and shift to Greenwich village to be more exposed to art. Oceols tries to reject the idea of relocating before the fall until Pete gets into the Colored Medicine School in Nashville. Mrs. Ellsworth is convinced of her justification and allows her to stay informing her that she is leaving for her summer season in Bar Harbor, Maine. 



 Years later Mrs. Ellsworth and art have triumphed over Oceola’s ordinary and occupied life. Oceola has moved out of Harlem and is living under Mrs. Ellsworth’s sponsorship. She lives in Gay street West of Washington Square and devotes all her time to practicing, playing for Mrs. Ellsworth’s friends, going to concerts, and reading books about music. She has stopped teaching her pupils and rehearsing choirs, and the only thing she still keeps on doing is playing for Harlem house parties but for free. 

 In the spring, Mrs. Ellsworth takes Oceola away from the city to the lodge in New York, where she organizes weekends to distract Oceola with the beauty of the city and keep her away from Jazz. 

 When there are too many guests Mrs. Ellsworth shares the bed with Oceola where she discusses her love for Tennyson and Browning and answers all of Oceola’s questions regarding the poets. She is happy her husband left her with a surplus amount of money so that she can fulfill the needs of the artists she likes, especially Oceola, the most interesting one whom she treats like her daughter. Oceola is the most interesting one because Mrs. Ellsworth had never seen a talented artist like Oceola before. 

 Oceola meets many black Algerian and French West Indian students in two years but she never finds anyone like-minded other than the Marxist students who seem sound to her for they want people to have enough food to eat. She acknowledges their belief because she has been through the suffering.

Oceola hates artists who talk about art. She believes art is something that should be expressed and not talked about. Music for Oceola is something that has movement and expression. She loves music that has :

“the power to pull colored folks out of their seats in the amen corner and make them shout and prance in the aisles for Jesus”.

 She doesn’t feel the bliss that Mrs. Ellsworth feels when she listens to symphonies and string quartetts. Mrs. Ellsworth misunderstands her silence for her being too moved by the music. Oceola loves going for trips on little riverboats with Mrs. Ellsworth rather than to concerts, or Versailles and listening to the old lady talk about the history of France. Mrs. Ellsworth is fond of France and it upsets her that her husband never understood or tried to understand the language. 


 All this time, Oceola’s piano skills have blossomed into perfection and she has done concerts in Paris, Berlin, and Brussels and attained popularity and appreciation for her work. When Oceola writes to Mrs. Ellsworth that her boyfriend is graduating and she is going south to attend her graduation, she feels Oceola lives too much in her dreamy world distracted especially by her boyfriend. 

 After she visits Pete, Oceola writes to Mrs. Ellsworth that she and Pete have decided to marry on Christmas. Mrs. Ellsworth rebukes Oceola’s idea of marriage. Mrs. Ellsworth is disappointed with Oceola’s dream of marriage and children and her idea of sacrificing her career for it. Oceola tries to convince her that she doesn’t need to choose between marriage and career as she is capable of handling them both. But Mrs. Ellsworth is convinced otherwise when she attends Oceola’s concert at Town Hall in the fall. The critics go wild and Mrs. Ellsworth blames Pete for the damage. Mrs. Ellsworth grows distant from Oceola and her personal life.

Sometime later an argument ensues between Oceola and Mrs. Ellsworth in the drawing room when Mrs. Ellsworth criticizes Oceola and her choices. Oceola confesses she wants to go back to Harlem, as she has been away from them for so long she wants to immerse herself in her culture again. Mrs. Ellsworth wonders why Oceola attempted such an undignified act by inserting her variations and not sticking to the classical item. Her disappointment moves to Pete and his visit on Thanksgiving. Mrs. Ellsworth made rude remarks about him but Oceola did not respond to them as she did not care about her opinion.

 Oceola spends her Thanksgiving night with Pete talking about their marriage, the venue, her dress, and how she hates expensive things. Pete proposes to Oceola to live their married life in Atlanta among many other colored people and Mrs. Ellsworth becomes the topic of conversation. They wonder if she will attend the wedding and she doesn’t attend the wedding. Mrs. Ellsworth and Oceola’s relationship is narrowed to Mrs. Ellsworth sending checks occasionally which shows the end of the ” period of Oceola”.


 Oceola gives her last performance for Mrs. Ellsworth in the drawing room. The argument and the whole conflict seemed to have been swept under the carpet but come to the surface again when Oceola plays her Blues variation.  

 Mrs. Ellsworth starts blaming Oceola for turning her back on art, running away from music, sacrificing her career for love, for “loving a man unworthy of lacing up her bootstraps”. She taunts Oceola about how she can make her great but she chooses to “dig her own grave”. Mrs. Ellsworth feels Pete will take away music from her, and her art from her even though Oceola feels otherwise and tells Mrs. Ellsworth that she will excel in her career even after being married. Oceola plays jazz despite having started with the technique paid for by Mrs. Ellsworth.

 Mrs. Ellsworth expresses her dismay over Oceola’s music which she feels is unworthy of the blissful music and teachings of Philippe and is undeserving of her expenses on Oceola.  Oceola simply asserts ” This is mine”. Mrs. Ellsworth sits still on the chair, while Oceola’s throbbing music makes the lilies in the priceless Persian vase tremble. 



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