Drama as Literature (EL 250)

2 Sep 2005

Ramsey, "Traction"

ELMORE: The few times me and him got leave over in Saudi and got our hands on beers, 'cause them Moslem-ites don't drink, even the good ones, ol' Brandon would get four or five in him and start preachin'.

MIKEY: I didn't smell no booze on his breath.

ELMORE: We laughed our asses off when he did that preacher stuff-- and we needed some fuckin' laughs more than anything... more than poozle, even. Fuckin' scuds slammin' down and Brandon talkin' nuts kept us from goin' nuts.... The glue is probably just giving him flashbacks is all.

MIKEY: [Pause.] He done miracles.


Ramsey, Erik. "Traction." TheatreHistory.com. 1995. http://www.theatrehistory.com/plays/traction.html. 11 Aug 2005.

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Some of the most poignant lines of “Traction,” make me question as to whether or not this play has to do with Christianity or the Muslim religion. Much like Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” a work based on Afro-cubanism, there is a mixture of religious dogmas in this play. For instance, the following line reminds me of the creed Muslims have to take in order to devote themselves to the faith: “BRANDON: --The Wheel has worn down and I have been picked to adhere a new growth of the tread. Traction is the message I bring to the hearts of men. Without Traction the motor makes nothing but noise, the pistons piss their fire into chaos. Traction spins the world beneath the great Wheel, Traction is…” This line is reminiscent of their call to accept Mohammed as the last prophet. Then, this stage direction is reminiscent of Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss. “BRANDON moves close and kisses ELMORE on the mouth, then quickly stepping back.” It is ironic to note that Judas’s hands would probably have been clean because he was an accountant; however, Jesus might have hand dirtier hands from working with people. In his vision, Elmore sees, “all wearing them gladiator helmets, you know, like the movies--brass and with them red brushes on top. And then I seen a hillside, looked like skull sockets... And then I seen my trusty tire iron here.” This is ironic because one thinks of the Romans burning Christians at the stakes – however, one might also see the depravity of the Gulf War, (mentioned earlier in the play), which looks like a war on Muslims to some. Elmore looks into his trusty tire iron, which is shaped like a cross – one has to wonder, if he looking at Jesus’s empty cross at the end? Is this a symbol that, yes, there is forgiveness in a world that makes war on its neighbor? It also begs to question, is it part of any religious doctrine to war with other God-fearing peoples, or just people in general? Is this a play of mixed religions? Or religions, mixed?

Posted by: Katie Aikins at August 17, 2005 07:18 PM

A search concerning the connection between "the Bible" and "wheel" turned up an interesting site. This site was developed & maintained by Richard Amiel McGough.
The definition given for his "Bible Wheel" is: The Bible Wheel is a simple and direct geometric representation of the Holy Bible. It reveals the supernatural structure of the Christian Canon by displaying the intrinsic geometric integration of the sixty-six books amongst themselves and with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
(More info: http://www.biblewheel.com/Wheel/wheel.asp, http://www.biblewheel.com/Wheel/Axis.asp) I was struck by the similarities of Bible Wheel" and the wheel discussed in the play. Brandon states: Look into the wheel and all will be made plain unto you. When I look at the wheel it is "plain to me"; it simplifies and gives order to the history of the Christian religion. The simple geometry of the "Bible Wheel" makes me wonder if Ramsey meant to make the connection. Is it coincidence that the wheel is made of us spokes & Mikey's description of the wheel includes those spokes? The play just happened to be copyrighted in 1995, the same year that the "Bible Wheel" made its appearance? It may be a stretch, but I believe Ramsey meant to make this connection between "Traction"'s wheel & the "Bible Wheel." Anyone want to back me up?

Posted by: Katie Lambert at August 20, 2005 02:10 PM

"...anybody who fucks up in front of OSHA tomorrow is gonna get fuckin' killed."
"Look into he wheel and all will be made plain unto you...How can it hurt you to look."
"I might be a little late. I got a promise to keep."

This play has many parallels to different stories and religions. Most interesting I thought was its relation to the story of saul/paul in the bible. Elmore begins the story talking about how he's in line to be promoted to a position of upper management, and also expresses his obvious preparedness to kill anyone who messes up in front of OSHA. It's as if his work crew is the enemy, or the jews if you will. Suddenly he is forced into seeing what's "inside the wheel," and undergoes a transformation, much like saul becoming paul. Elmore even sees a vision of a tire iron, or crucifix, and it is this image which changes his character. While we have no idea where Elmore is off too, he is at least keeping his promise to someone.
The play has many Christian overtones and this parallel is one of many. I find it hard to translate in its entirety the meaning of the play.

Posted by: David Denninger at August 31, 2005 01:46 PM

The Saul interpretation is one of a possible hundred. For instance, one could discuss the scriptural identity of the Saturn dealership...lol. Had Elmore been more specific as to what his "wheel vision" symbolized, it would be more obvious what the message of the play actually is.

Posted by: David Denninger at August 31, 2005 02:12 PM

David, you mentioned the hundreds of interpretations for the play-what was yours? You made several references to the religious connotations, so do you get a religious meaning from this work or do you find other ideas?

Posted by: Katie Lambert at August 31, 2005 04:18 PM

I think of the play as a a story about a man remembering his faith, or maybe his moral foundation from his childhood. A rebirth of sorts. The promise he chooses to honor comes across as something from his more distant past. I could of course be wrong, but thats how I read it. I did not get any kind of religious meaning to which I can personally relate. Did you? Without knowing more about the author's motive for writing it, or lesson he intended to teach it's hard for me to decide if the play is indeed a metaphor for something biblical. Maybe it's meant as a modern parable?

I checked out the wwww.biblewheel.com site and it was very interesting. I would assume that the author decided on the wheel in his play based on the bible wheel concept.

Posted by: David Denninger at August 31, 2005 04:28 PM

What i got from this play was a religious meaning to it. I believe that Brandon was in a way trying to make up for wrong deeds he did in the past by becoming very religious. He talked about the wheel as if it was the sacred cross. I dont really understand what the authors point was supposed to be, if it was supposed to be religious? Whether or not the wheel had spokes and geometric is just a coincidence or put in there on purpose. I dont also understand when Elmore said "I might be a little late. I got a promise to keep." I dont know what the promise is, they dont really get into detail about it. Maybe the promise is to god, or to Brandon. I dont know and with this quote i dont understand the play. I also want to know more what Elmore saw in the wheel. If someone could help explain the promise to me, i would appreciate it.

Posted by: Denamarie at August 31, 2005 09:24 PM

OOOO wait i just remembered a quote. When Mikey said "He done miracles." Elmore responded by saying "Shit." I dont know whether or not he says it because he knows that Brandon does do the miracles and didnt want it to get out to people. Or whether he said it because he was mad that this was out in the factory and the OSHA people were coming the next day and didnt want them to hear this babble and close the factory.

Posted by: Denamarie at August 31, 2005 09:27 PM

I didn't understand or like this play very much. Maybe I'm not looking deep enough into it, but all I got from it was the whole wheel and biblical comparison.

Also, I tried checking out the websites Katie posted above, but the pages could not be found? Maybe it's just my computer.

This is one of the few quotations that puzzled me in the play.
"MIKEY: [Pause.] He done miracles.

ELMORE: Shit."

At times, Brandon seemed to be acting like he was trying to get Elmore to join a cult or something. It was kind of creepy.

"BRANDON: Look into the wheel and all will be made plain unto you.

[MIKEY moves and holds the tire with BRANDON.]

MIKEY: Do it."


"BRANDON: Look into the wheel.

ELMORE: Fuck the wheel!

MIKEY: How can it hurt you to look?"

Posted by: Amanda at August 31, 2005 10:01 PM

"MIKEY: [Pause.] I talked to Eddie and Dallas and Roger. They all seen their old cars."

I'm wondering why all the other Brandon-followers saw their old cars when they looked into the wheel...

Posted by: Kayla Sawyer at August 31, 2005 10:07 PM

To amanda:
If you click on the links to www.biblewheel.com they don't work, but if you just type it in w/o the "/whatever"-- Just www.biblewheel.com then it works and you can search around.

Posted by: David Denninger at August 31, 2005 10:35 PM

I was also wondering why they saw their old cars, maybe because they were looking into a wheel, and that they also re tread tires. But if this is religious, why would they see their old cars instead of God or something?

Posted by: Denamarie at August 31, 2005 10:58 PM

Thanks David! I'll give that a try.

Posted by: Amanda at September 1, 2005 08:57 AM

Are we only supposed to comment on this article? I see nothing posted on the Jacko, "CST" page.

Posted by: David Denninger at September 1, 2005 09:25 AM

I completely agree with Amanda on this one. I really didn't understand this play at all. It could have been the rediculous amount of expletives used. In any case, I had absolutely no idea what this play is supposed to mean or the author's point. After reading everyones comments, I guess I understand a little more, but still I don't see many of the things that everyone else sees. I did however like when Mikey says, "How can it hurt you to look?" I kind of relate to that. Alot of times when people are talking about something, or something is new to us, we get scared. But Mikey is right, how can it hurt to just try?

Posted by: Chera Pupi at September 1, 2005 11:46 AM

David, go to the course website and click on Sep. 2. You'll see the title, "Catholic Social Teaching" in blue. Click on that and go to the bottom of the page and you'll see where to post comments!

Posted by: Chera Pupi at September 1, 2005 11:49 AM

I have the same question as Kayla, Why did they all see their old cars when they looked into the wheel? There were a bucnh of possibilities that I came up with but the reason that I think most is because the story's setting was in a factory and "seeing a car" would be what related to every charcter in the play. I also want to know what Elmore's promise was that he said he had to keep. I see that Katie and David had posted comments saying that they could realte the play to religion, and in a way I could too because of the many references to Elmore and the four way tire iron that is present both at the beginning and end of the play. And if you want to put a religious twist on the story you could say that Brandon was like Jesus and Elmore and Mikey were his followers? I do not know...!!! The play also had many references of how Brandon and Elmore were in war together. Elmore:"You kept my shit straight in the gulf." Brandon: Many now believe in me because you have believed in me. So maybe the story's meaning was just about the two men staying friends and trying to make something out of their life once they got out of the service? Another line in the play that I didn't understand was when Elmore said to Mikey: Holiness? He's doing that routine for ya? Which makes me think that towards the end of the play Elmore just went along with what Mikey and Brandon were saying so he could get them off of his back and clean up the shop for the inspectors? Overall, even if I never find out what this story was supposed to mean it was still a great, entertaining play to read.

Posted by: Gina Burgese at September 1, 2005 12:31 PM

So we are supposed to read the Catholic teachings article as well?

Posted by: Amanda at September 1, 2005 12:50 PM

Amanda -- yes, that's right.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 1, 2005 01:17 PM

Kayla - that's a curious thought about what did they see when they looked into the cars. Any ideas? I wondered about that, too. I still don't know....

Posted by: Katie Aikins at September 1, 2005 04:08 PM

I'm thinking they saw whatever they have fond memories of and have been involved in. For the other co-workers, they saw their old cars because they work at a tire factory and because they have a passion and appriciation of cars.

Elmore saw images of death, war, and people he used to know. I'm thinking that maybe Elmore got up to some mischief when he was stationed in the Gulf. Perhaps he even committed some crimes:

"ELMORE: ...The few times me and him got leave over in Saudi and got our hands on beers, 'cause them Moslem-ites don't drink, even the good ones..."

Posted by: Kayla Sawyer at September 1, 2005 04:39 PM

Is this religious or pagan?

BRANDON: A great task has been befallen upon me, and you, Elmore, are to be the tool of my trans-form-u-lation.

This is extremely wierd, a Christ-like figure in the most unholiest of places.... a re-tread factory. Out of all the profanity
throughout this play they do need a moral high ground, but tire holding messiah? I know this is suppose to be taken metaphorically, but picture this if you will... What does Mikey's and Elmore's vision suppose to mean? Heaven or Hell? Prosperity or destruction? I'm stumped! If I'm missing the picture please help me out.

Posted by: Kevin Hinton at September 1, 2005 05:43 PM

BRANDON: A great task has been befallen upon me, and you, Elmore, are to be the tool of my trans-form-u-lation.

ELMORE: [Pause.] Look, we got these inspectors coming tomorrow and--

BRANDON: --You are the spark which ignites the fuel of my message and turns the engine over. You are the friction between the pavement and the tire which makes Traction possible.

IT looks as if Mikey is on a mission to somehow introduce Elmore to this "wheel". But what is the wheel? I think it stands for a greater power. Maybe something that would change these fatory workers lives. I think it is just the striving for the need to be something more than just "glue-boys".

Posted by: Rachel Prichard at September 1, 2005 08:03 PM

In response to kevin's comment. magine your life working at a tire tread factory with what seems to be very southern or uneducated people. They seem to be living this small town life. I believe that Mikey and Elmore's vision is that of a higher power. maybe they make it up just to get out of their lives for a moment. I think they are striving for something more than just tire tread. Maybe they need something to help them get sum "traction" in their lives.

Posted by: Rachel Prichard at September 1, 2005 08:12 PM

I think I see Rachel's point. I can see the tire as being a higher being, or a greater power. I still am not very clear on this play at all. But through reading everyone's comments, I'm getting a little better idea of what it's supposed to mean. Everyone sees alot of the same things, but had it not been for you all, I definately would not have picked up on alot. I'm really having a hard time here!

Posted by: Chera Pupi at September 1, 2005 08:23 PM

I didn't understand most of this story but I thought it was interesting that all the guys ecxcept for Elmore saw their old cars.... I read above (I can't remember I'm sorry) in someones blog that they thought that when looking into the tire and seeing the old cars they used to have might have meant symbolized a hugher power. I'm wondering if maybe the ones who saw the cars have a "future" so-to-speak but Elmore is what you would call a stiff and may not go really far in his life. Then again he's the only one worried about the inspection so I don't know.

Posted by: Danielle at September 1, 2005 10:36 PM

Does anyone else find it interesting that in the dscriptions of the characters and the setting it says TIME: The day after tomorrow. Why would the author use that as the time for the play?

Posted by: Lorin Schumacher at September 2, 2005 08:06 AM

The one thing in the story that I i found contradicting to itself was the fact that the language did not coincide with a play about religon. There were many references to different religions in this play, and yet they didn't reflect any of them in their lives.

ELMORE: Holiness? He's doin' that routine for ya?

MIKEY: What?

ELMORE: He fuckin' got you man. The few times me and him got leave over in Saudi and got our hands on beers, 'cause them Moslem-ites don't drink, even the good ones, ol' Brandon would get four or five in him and start preachin'.

To me, it seems like the men, especially Mikey, are hypacritical and the their values don't match up to what they supposidly "belive in."

Posted by: Andy LoNigro at September 2, 2005 08:12 AM
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