Discussing “The Conversion of Sam”

Who is the central character?

Sam Simpson

Sam is introduced to us as an extreme loafer. While he had charm and a gift of gab, he was known only for the tricks his dog could do and his rough ways.

Where is the story set?

In the down-at-the-heel area of a city called Poplar Street

Up town where the dickty black folks lived.

What is the main conflict?

The choice between being what you have always been and what you want to become. John has to transform to have what he wants and he faces external and internal challenges that want to pull him back to a world he wants to leave.

What makes the central character interesting/compelling?

The process of seeing his transformation was very interesting. While I did not like him or his friends, I warmed up to him. He has his issues with pride but thinking about what life was like in the 20's and 30's, I can understand the behavior. 

How did the story make me feel? What intrigued me?

The story did not bring up strong feelings for me. I was entertained and overall I enjoyed the story.

Hurston did a great job of making me really feel the experience in Jim's Restaurant in the “down-at-the-heel” section of town named Poplar Street. You feel the life and laughter that must have existed there.

I was really intrigued by how Hurston shows that there were rules to dialect and that it is not just bad English. This is done subtly through an interaction between Sam and a gentleman known as Professor. Professor used variations on words to make himself sound important and to elevate himself above the other loafers who hung out in Jim's place. Sam wins an argument and reveals that the Professors fancy speech is really  meaningless and is no match for Sam's gift of gab using dialect.

Hurston's use of dialect is done with respect for the people using it. As you read these stories, you gain an understanding of the words and rhythms of this speech. I think of how black people have been made to feel ashamed of people who use dialect but that is because other people have decided that its usage is a sign of incompetence. But it is not, it is a dialect. The quality of a person's mind should not be judge by dialect. Shakespearian English is a dialect that takes a lot of practice to learn and understand. Why is this seen as being a sign of intelligence.

What questions did this stories raise in my mind?

How difficult it is to change your life and do you have to totally abandon your past life including friends in-order to maintain your new life.

Who would find this story interesting?

This is an entering and overall happy story. I think this would be a good book young adult readers as well as adult readers. This story could happen today.

More discussions of Hurston's short stories.