November 30, 2004

Who Is He?

The John Henry Legend is one of the American legends and tall tale with super human strength attributed to the hero. Some legends tell that he is African American who wielded a hammer moved from Tennessee to West Virginia where he helped build the Big Bend railway tunnel in Summer County in the late 19 century. He died after winning a contest with a steel-driving machine, a noble attempt to show that the coming of stronger machines would not displace human worker.

However, some legends also state that John Henry is sometimes a white man, a worker in the docks instead of the railroads. In Katie’s presentations, she discussed that some websites were not really accurate about whether John Henry existed because I also cam across different information. I also agree with Nabila’s blog that individuals had different perspectives of John Henry. Hearing all these different legends made me question, whether John Henry was real or not. So why would one man, one among hundred years of other men and other stories emerge as such a central figure in folklore and song?
Having these questions in mind, I did some research and felt like Paul Bunyan. John Henry’s life was about power and weakness. To the thousands of people working on the railroad, he was an inspiration and an example. He was a man just like those who worked in a deplorable unforgiving atmosphere but managed to make his mark. However, the songs reflect many faces and many lives. It might have probably been a protest anthem, an attempt by the laborers to denounce without facing punishment or dismissal by their superiors.
All in all to some people John Henry may or may not be a real character. Henry became an important symbol of the working man. To me the basic claim or concept of this legend is that, even if you are the greatest worker that ever lived, management remains ambivalent to our health and well being. In my opinion, John Henry is not a real person. I think it was a tale that was told from one generation to the next to help motivate workers. However, I also feel that some of the information in the tale might be true and false so it could be one large tale.

Posted by Se-AnnWilliams at November 30, 2004 10:11 AM
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