The institution of the home has spawned countless feel-good adages, including such vernacular standards as “home is where the heart is” and “there’s no place like home.” Home denotes comfort and safety; questioning that supposed truth provokes unease. In Uncle Tom’s Children and The Ways of White Folks, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes use their characters’ homes to emphasize their futile situations. When their home is debased by exposure, turmoil, and shame, their entire world becomes imperiled. The instability of their homes reflect the uncertainty in the characters’ lives—or the certainty of their death.
Richard Wright’s childhood home plays a significant role in the opening of his autobiographical sketch “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow.” Wright describes a bleak environment where cinders litter the grassless yard. Like any child, he finds imaginative ways to elude this stark reality, bringing the charred clusters to life as innocuous weapons in his boyhood games. The fun ends, however, when Wright and his pals encounter a crowd of white boys. Wright sees the protection that his foes’ landscaped yards provide in the unfair fight of his cinders against their broken bottles. Lacking this defense, Wright returns to his own home, where all the delight has suddenly vanished.  His surroundings no longer elicit joy; he sees only the “appalling disadvantages of a cinder environment.” 
In Wright’s fictional stories, his depictions of home are likewise unsettling. In “Down by the Riverside,” home provides little comfort in a crisis. During a devastating flood, the main character Mann’s wife struggles with a difficult labor.  Mann’s house no longer provides comfort or protection; it becomes something tremendously useless, subject to be literally swept away at a moment’s notice. Recognizing this reality, Mann chooses to navigate a white man’s stolen boat through complete darkness against a strong current to seek medical attention for his wife that, because of their race, is not guaranteed. The absurdity of this “better” option highlights the fallible nature of the home and, in turn, the family’s existence.
Home loses its sacred privacy in “Long Black Song.” Sarah, a young black woman with a small child, is left at home for a week while her husband Silas is away. A traveling white salesman gains entry into her yard by hawking clocks; he enters her home, however, by making advances that Sarah cannot thwart.  The shroud of privacy that a home normally provides is mocked by the salesman’s painless infiltration. When Silas discovers that a white man has been in his house, his rage forces Sarah to seek shelter in the nearby fields. The house later becomes a war zone after Silas kills a white man, causing a mob to set fire to the house with Silas inside. From the fields that offer the protection that her home no longer can, Sarah clutches her child and watches helplessly as the rest of her life goes up in flames. 
Langston Hughes’ “Father and Son” tells the story of Bert, the illegitimate son of white Colonel Norwood and his mistress Cora. Bert grows up at school, far removed from his family’s Big House Plantation. He returns home for a summer and, after displaying defiant behavior, is held there against his will by his father.  Bert ignites his father’s rage one night when refusing to exit through the back door of the Big House, asserting that, because of their irrefutable relationship, it is his home as well.  Bert kills his father and flees, returning home only when pursued by an angry white mob. He chooses not to return to the cabins in the cornfields, but instead to the Big House. This is not a life or death decision—he knows neither location offers true refuge. Symbolically, though, Bert’s choice to take his own life in his father’s house becomes a final act of rejection against the alleged meaning of home.
If not home, where else is there for these characters to go? They are equally vulnerable in the public sphere—lynchings were a major reality in these stories and during this historical era. In such volatile times, these characters are not even afforded the constancy and safe haven of home. In these stories, the only rest for the weary is death. There is no going home. They are truly without sanctuary.
 Richard Wright, “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow” in Uncle Tom’s Children (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004), 3.
 Ibid., 1.
 Wright, “Down by the Riverside,” 63.
 Wright, “Long Black Song,” 137.
 Ibid., 156.
 Langston Hughes, “Father and Son” in The Ways of White Folks (New York: Vintage Classics, 1990), 231.
 Ibid., 241.