Jumping on the Bandwagon

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Several other students have blogged about J.'s name, and we've discussed it in class, but there's still something I can point out.

J. is recalling his memory of the John Henry legend:

"He ate the food in great inhalations (J. wondering from the summit of the Talcott Motor Lodge, who is that little boy down there in the classroom who shares his name, and where did they get that food.  He was born a slave.  His parents were Slaves.  Where did they get all that food?)" (138).
                        Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days

This part confused me because it didn't seem like John Henry was in a classroom in John's retelling of the legend.  I just pictured him to be in a little shack, my vision of his house.  I never mentioned this in class because I wasn't sure what to even say about it, because it also suggests the idea that J. is looking down on himself as a little boy, like he's standing outside his thoughts and actually visualizing them. Think Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past.

"She asked one last thing when they came down the mountain. When they came down the mountain she asked, what's the J. stand for? He told her" (389).

So even with the first section I quoted, we still don't really know what J.'s name is, and it's important that we don't.  I'm working on a theory that ties in my past idea that J. was a parallel for John Henry.  Maybe Whitehead wanted us to believe that was the case throughout the story until the end. By keeping J. as J., Whitehead makes John Henry seem larger than life in comparison - he gets a whole name while J. gets only an initial.  J. is just a man, whereas John Henry is an idealized man, destroying the parallel. This idea is so scatter-brained at the moment, so if anyone understands what I'm saying, please share your opinion or ask me questions so I can make it more logical.



Josie Rush said:

"Destroying the parallel" and thus freeing him from becoming that inevitably sacrifice? Maybe. Or, maybe the fact that he now passed on his name and shared a part of himself with another person (as Dr. Jerz pointed out), now there's someone to pass on his story, prepping him for death. Just like John Henry had Lil' Bob to pass on his story. I think the way a reader perceives the ending says a lot about him/her as a person. So...on that note, I'll let you know when I think of something concrete!

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