John Henry: American Hero or Tall Tale?

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John Henry is known for being an American folk hero who raced against a steam powered drill and won and then died as a result.  Many representations of John Henry's story suggest that this tale is merely a myth; however it is more than that.  There is evidence to suggest that the race never took place at the Big Bend Tunnel because there is no historical proof that steam drills ever existed there. And no, it is not possible for a baby to be born weighing 33lbs, or to be born with a 20lbs hammer in his hand but if we look past this we can see Henry's actual influence.  John Henry is an african american man who  becomes a symbol for working class americans.  He represents people fighting for work against technological advances.  Even the most qualified and skilled workers were being put out of work because of technology.  John Henry's story fights for these working class people and comes out as an american folk hero.  So basically, what I am trying to get across is that John Henry is both a Tall Tale and an American Hero. 

5 Comments

I agree, John Henry is both tall tale and hero. The version probably changed depending on who was telling it, making it more interesting, but the moral stayed the same, working against the progress of technology.

The tale did change, as we saw in reading different versions of the song. It is interesting how a story can change as it passes from one person to another. But what is important is that each story contains the same main points and still manages to present the same theme. And what makes John Henry relevant even today is that we are still facing the same problems, making this tall tale and timeless tale.

There are so many versions that is correct, but there is always a true woman, a race against technology, and the inevitable death. If we could only go back to the days when you cooked with grandma or worked in the yard with grandpa and they told stories from they were kids, this is the way that these stories are handed down.

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This page contains a single entry by StefanieWiegand published on September 29, 2010 10:59 AM.

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