The Hitler in Every Generation

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"From anyone else- on that day, in that scene, or anywhere else, for that matter- what he did would have been a simple kindness, but I looked into his teeth and knew he was trying to tell us that he could have run us over or not and it would have been the same thing."

John Henry Days, 93.

 

Since when did it become alright to inflict sheer, unabridged terror on other human beings? It is this sort of basist thinking that led to tragedies such as the Holocaust. Whitehead didn't even need to mention that one Angel, "with his long dark greasy hair and dingy club leather, astride this massive chopper" had a "little square of black hair underneath his lip that was almost, but not quite, a HItler mustache" (93). The fact that the Angel could have run the kids at the Stones' concert over but chose not to is a distorted "mercy," actually not mercy at all. It shows a disregard for human life that places the Angels down at the bottom of the humanistic totem pole.

Also, it didn't help that the Angels' pets were German Shepherds or something, and that one of the primary Rolling Stones songs during which they terrorized the crowd was "Sympathy," a song that described how listeners should have sympathy for the devil and during which Mick Jagger strutted like the devil himself. Whitehead was obviously making a correlation between the evils of the Holocaust and this prior rock 'n roll Holocaust. Whitehead describes how the children in the rock 'n roll counterculture had to pay a sacrifice "to the culture. The kids had brought a new thing into the world, but they hadn't paid for it yet. It had to be paid for" (99). This can be compared to the Holocaust of World War II. The Nazis attempted to bring a new, purified race into the world and eliminate other races. The sacrifice that the Nazis "paid" was in the name of the people they were killing. With the counterculture of the 1960's, the "Angels" were deified killers, murdering the innocent in the name of 'rock 'n roll.' Also, like the Nazis, after the Angels killed the young black man (ironically nameless), they "split" (100).

Hitler killed himself, escaping the horrific crimes he'd committed. Initially, he thought that he possessed power over those he killed. Likewise, the Angels thought that they had power over the crowds, but they didn't at all because they ended up fleeing. 

8 Comments

Josie Rush said:

Jessica, I'm glad you pointed out that the "mercy" the Angels showed the kids was actually just another illustration of their disregard for human life. After all, a few sentences later, it is stated that the kids knew that killing or sparing their lives was the same to the Angel. This bypass just shows that the Angel pretty much couldn't be bothered to kill those kids. When murder and mercy are equivalent to a person, it's possibly worse than when someone goes on a killing rampage.
I also noticed the Holocaust parallels in this narrative. I think that the fact those kids had to "pay their dues" because they were bringing in a new culture can be compared to John Henry paying his dues when he dueled with the machine and died. He too was seeing a new culture come to life, and he was part of the sacrifice.

JessicaOrlowski Author Profile Page said:

Josie,

If John Henry was the sacrifice to the new machine age, could J. possibly be the sacrifice to the intellectual, internet age?

Jessie Krehlik said:

I like the parallel you're building between John Henry and J. both being sacrifices. We could definitely find a strong argument to suggest that J. is the sacrifice. Think about when J. choked on the food at dinner. He was almost a sacrifice there, but he didn't die, which counters our assumption for now. I guess it all depends on how the book ends, doesn't it? I'm excited to see what happens, aren't you?

I really liked the section about the Angels too--I almost blogged about them, but decided to go with the Stamp Collector instead. I didn't think of the link to the Holocaust, but I can definitely see where you're coming from.

Josie Rush said:

Jessica,
I definitely think J. could be the sacrifice to this new age, because he too is on the brink of an era. Whether the sacrifice is his life, the record, or something else, Whitehead has made it clear that some dues have to be paid. I think something else that is sacrificed with John Henry is the capacity for victory. Before machines, it was possible to consider something "the best" without being seen as naiive. For example, according to the legend, John Henry was the best at what he did; no one could defeat him. Now machines are put together with the knowledge that something will replace them. It's an environment of perpetual defeat.

Even though you already commented on it, I wanted to point out that the comments on your entry are similar to what I blogged about. I personally do think that J. represents the martyr, the sacrifice, for the old print journalists moving into a new media journalism age. I suppose we'll find out soon, as we're almost done reading the book.

JessicaOrlowski Author Profile Page said:

Thanks, Jess. I don't think that it counters our assumption, because either way J. will end up becoming a sacrifice.

JessicaOrlowski Author Profile Page said:

That's a really, really interesting point, Josie. But when was the time before machines? Are you referring to the industrial age? I believe that as human beings we inherantly want to consistently become better. So, I think that our capacity for victory has always been there. The John Henry story, though, more or less advertised that more.

JessicaOrlowski Author Profile Page said:

Not only does he represent the martyr to the new media journalism age, but he also sort of represents a martyr to an age of acceptance, particularly in Talcott. The residents of Talcott are still somewhat bigoted when it comes to the acceptance of African Americans. Their concept of "darkeys," as they put it, is romanticized because of their extreme exposure to the John Henry story. But J. offers an alternative viewpoint of African Americans, one that involves the use of brainpower instead of muscle. J., is very proof that John Henry did not succeed- he gives way to an intellectual information age, leaving the traditional drive of the human spirit in the dust of John Henry's falling hammer.

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