John Henry-Americana in its purest form

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John Henry was a steel drivin' man,

He died with a hammah in his han',

I believe that the legend of John Henry is a taste of American folklore; a story of a struggling laborer who works his life away with little to no thanks for it (in most cases).  The ideas of race are very clear in the many versions of the John Henry ballads, some more so than others. He is depicted as a man of increible strength and skill as a "steel drivin' man".  I tend to see the issue of class more clearly in these versions however rather than race.  The laborers whose backs and blood quite literally built this country and their struggle is a common Amercian folklore theme.  While reading and listening to the many versions of the John Henry legend I was reminded of the Whitman poem, "I Can Hear America Singing" which we read earlier this semester.  The people depicted in that poem were all laborers of some kind or another and that like the John Henry legend is a true depiction of the people who built America, the often unthanked laborers who face strife and struggle and who sometimes get buried at the White House....

 

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL266/2009/11/traditional_joh/

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