Holding out for a Hero

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Everyone here is gathered for the fair, she considers, all those ppeople below, and they all work from a different snapshot. All the people who have heard the song on the radio or had the story read to them from a children's book, they all have their own John Henry. You summon him up from verses and he swings his hammer down with the arms you give him. Thinkh e really ived and he's more human; deposit a smile on his face and beads of sweat or tears running down his cheek.

--John Henry Days, 262


Everyone has a John Henry. I really liked this part of the book, because Pamela finally had an epiphany and understands why her father was so crazy about John Henry. He was more than a steel-driving man. I blogged earlier that I love folklore, but I have to say that Whitehead's discription here really was perfect. What separates John Henry from, say, Paul Bunyon is that a black man pounding steal is a lot more realistic than a giant man with a blue ox who endlessly chops down forests. 

Who would believe that a giant man and a giant blue ox existed? Children. But, the story of John Henry really could've happened. When I began reading this book, I asked my mom if she thought that John Henry really existed--she didn't give me much of an answer. But, I guess he's kind of like a Black version of King Arthur. There's no proof that Arthur existed either, but his legend has lasted for centuries.

 People do not have to be Black in order to identify with John Henry--everyone has a struggle in their lives at some point. Like Karyssa said in Resistance is Futile, John Henry does serve as a metaphor for mankind's fight with technology, but I think you could further this to say that he struggled with more than just that. He struggled with equality as well.

I'm not saying that John Henry has to be everyone's hero, but he serves as a great example of what people need to encourage themselves. People hear the story of a man, not larger than life, but large all the same who defeats the undefeatable. He does the impossible, and because of that, he gives everyone courage to take risks in life, to have determination.

For more on part 4 of John Henry Days, click here.


Aja Hannah said:

I'm linking to you on my part five blog just so you know, but yes I also feel this way. He may have been cruel, but there are still postitive qualities to him. Also, he may have just been hardened by the job or experience.

I absolutely agree with you. John Henry can serve as a model for inspiration for a variety of people, and that's probably why his legend remains one that people love so much. He's a strong (physically and of character) black man from a time when African Americans were still extremely oppressed. He's the every man living up expectations he has for himself and society. There are more, but it's late and my brain is foggy. Anyways, it's easier to relate to him than other folk heroes.

Jessie Krehlik said:

It's just easier to imagine him as a real person than the other folk heroes. I'm not saying John Henry really existed...but he COULD have...which is a lot more than we can say for Paul Bunyon. But, I do admit that his part as a black man does force us to almost feel sympathy for him. At the same time, I'm not sure his race really matters all that much. In the prologue, Whitehead has those mini-articles about John Henry, and one of the people writing claims that John Henry was white. Regardless of his ethnicity, his work song gave workers a reason to continue what they were doing--it gave them a certain amount of determination that otherwise didn't exist.

Oh definitely, that's what I was trying to say. I meant that he can serve as the black hero, but he represents so much more than that. I blogged about it here. I feel like John Henry represents mankind in general because he can serve as an inspiration for multiple groups of people.

Yeah, you already linked to that blog entry. I'm sorry to double link. I didn't reread your original entry before commenting again so I forgot.

Jessie Author Profile Page said:

No harm done. Now people will have a really hard time to miss your blog though! But it's good that we're on the same page about this stuff, ya know? I know it's fun to argue, but it's always comforting when I find someone who thinks the same as me, because it gives me confidence in my literary analysis abilities.

Kayla Lesko said:

Not trying to be mean, but I think comparing John Henry to King Arthur is kind of a stretch. I agree that both legends have lasted for so long, but Arthur accomplished so mouch more than John Henry did.

Jessie Author Profile Page said:

No I agree...it was a stretch. I wasn't really trying to compare them so much as just give another example of a long lasting legend. Arthur's actually my favorite legend, and if I had to pick between the two, I'd pick Merlyn and company any day.

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Jessie on Holding out for a Hero: No harm done. Now people will
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