November 08, 2005
I think that this could be just a tall tale, however the message that it was meant to convey is true.
I also think that this story is meant to talk about technology and race. It refers to technology based on the fact that machines were growing and beginning to take over the working man's jobs which left them without much else. I also think that this refers to race because the owner of the railroad does not have any trouble replacing the hardworking men of his crew with a machine that will save him money. This could be seen in terms of race just because the owner could be looking at the workers as nothing that could not easily be replaced. On the other hand it could be argued that it would not have mattered if the workers were black or white, the owner still would have done whatever would save him money.
Finally, the lyrics that were on the web site really helped to convey the message of the story. Regardless of whether or not this was a tall tale or a true story, the lyrics really helped to send the message of the song.
Posted by StacyEstatico at November 8, 2005 05:55 PM
I wrote something similar on my blog too. The ballad certainly has elements of both race and technology in it. I like the connection you made regarding race however- I didn't see i quite like that. Really, it adds an element of an economic view to it as well. It's all for money.
Posted by: Vanessa at November 9, 2005 04:13 PM
In regards to your race comment, I think the owner would have replaced employees regardless of race. I keep thinking about poor Charlie's dad in the Willy Wonka movies/book. He was replaced by a machine that did his toothpaste-cap-placement job at a much faster pace (or paste, if you want a PUNny one!). I don't think he replaced his employees because they were poor, just like I don't think the owner replaced his railroad workers because they were black. Just a thought to ponder.
Posted by: Meredith Harber at November 9, 2005 09:12 PM
That's a good thought, Stacy, that the John Henry ballads were tall tales. I remember studying him in elementary school and he wrote "Pecos Bill", which was also a tall tale. I think they were racing against technology because they needed to keep their jobs.
Posted by: Ashley Holtzer at November 10, 2005 08:22 AM
Meredith, I agree that the story is about the fight of the working man against technology. I also feel that the same thing would have happened even if John Henry were white. However, I think that the idea of race does play some factor in it just because that was present during that time.
Posted by: Stacy at November 10, 2005 08:34 AM
for the time period that these stories were told (1890-1909 more than likely) it wasn't so much about race as it was techology. The race factor was there, but it was downplayed.
I believe the late 1800s to early 1900s had more social equality than we do even now. Blacks and whites (mostly Irishmen) that worked on the railroads going east to west got a long better than most people.
When the steam drill was introduced, companies were letting go of men--black and white--because it was easier and cheaper to keep one man on and train him on the "complex" (by their standards) controls worked.
This story also, in my opinion, represents W.Va-SW. Penn. more than any other part of the nation. Mainly because these areas are more commonly "blue collar" as opposed to "white collar". Think of the Pittsburgh Steelers (and the Packers as well) for example, they aren't referred to as "white collar players." I mean could you imagine Myron Cope refering to Jack Lambert (who no matter what anyone says will always be the picture of the Steelers in general) as white collar? Or how about Franco Harris? Or Lynn Swann? Or Ben Rothelisberger or Tommy Maddox.
No, because their strong, ruff and tuff guys. So was John Henry, whether he was real or not. He doesn't represent race to this time period, I'm sure, he represented the "American dream" of doing things on our own, and living off the land. Unfortunately his story is man vs machine, and the machine won and lost.
How did it lose? Simple, John Henry went faster than the machine, and he didn't worry about whether he was dying or not.
How did it win? John Henry died of a heart attack, and with him so did that particular American dream.
Posted by: Lou Gagliardi at November 11, 2005 07:43 AM