But What Cometh Before Pride?

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"'You could always not go,' J. says.  'No one's forcing you to these things.'

One Eye clucks his teeth.  'You're going fo the record and telling me this.' J. doesn't say anything" (126).

As this book progresses, I find that I'm falling into the normal pattern of a reader.  At first, I was confused, maybe a little annoyed, because for the entirety of Part 1, not much made sense.  While this uncertainty does not occur for me at the begining of all books, the more contemporary novels I read, the more I notice the authors seem to be more patient in building their tales, and trusting readers to emulate their willingness to wait.  By the time I'd read parts 2 and 3, I had more of a grasp on the characters, and more of an idea as to what was happening.  I've been trying to infer each piece of the parallel between the John Henry story and the story of the other characters, but in order for this to actually happen, I still need that one snippet of information: Motive.

We don't have it for either John Henry or J.  We're hardpressed to find it for the other characters as well.  Though, unlike with our last reading, The Quick and the Dead, I'm confident loose ends will be tied up.  So this isn't a critique of the novel for witholding information, merely a statement.  We don't know why (or at this point, really even if) John Henry decided to challenge that machine.  We don't know what's pushing J. to go for the record, J. who seems so aloof and cynical about other aspects of life.  We don't know why One Eye wants off the list, though he seems ready to tell us through J., J. has of yet refused to listen.  We also don't know why Pamela wants to keep the John Henry items her father collected.  We can guess it's because they're a part of her father, but after her exposition about the sibling rivalry between her and John Henry, we're probably more accurate in assuming that getting rid of the artifacts would cleanse her pysche and preserve a happy memory of her father more than keeping the pieces would.  

So far, I'm readily guessing pride as a motivation for both John Henry and J., maybe even for One Eye and Pamela.  But I want to see what other strings are attached to this, because it's never just pride.  There's more to it than that.  The motivation for pride is what I hope we discover in the concluding sections.   



Jessica Orlowski said:

I think it's all about Pride for Pamela. There is a certain amount of pride that's attached to her father's amazing collection, so perhaps there's a part of her that dosen't want to give up these things.

Josie Rush said:

I agree that pride is motivating Pamela. I don't think she's necessarily proud of her father's collection; I think she resents it, because, as she said, there was some "sibling rivalary" going on between her and John Henry. Now that her father's dead, Pamela owns the collection; she's no longer equal to it or below it as she felt herself to be before. (It was shown that her father sacrificed aspects of Pamela's life to maintain the collection, so Pamela would've felt like her father was choosing John Henry as his "favorite") Now I imagine she is reluctant to relinquish that control. She finally has the upperhand with John Henry, why should she part ways with him as the winner? If that stuff is tucked away in storage, she can eventually pretend it doesn't exist, that is, until the storage bill comes.

Melissa Schwenk said:

I don’t necessarily think that John Henry is out for pride, especially if you look at the last section of this part of the book. He was so upset about the accident in the tunnel and the death of Tommy that he broke down and got incredibly sick. He didn’t really seem to care whether he was good at what he did or not. He was trying to get money to start a life with someone back home, but then he realizes that the mountain has control over him. He repeats that he thinks it will kill him. So I think that John Henry got caught in a situation where he just worked because he was good at it, and he had nowhere else to go. But at this point, it is still too hard to determine whether or not John Henry is really only out for pride.

Aja Hannah said:

Commenting on "the more contemporary novels I read, the more I notice the authors seem to be more patient in building their tales, and trusting readers to emulate their willingness to wait."

I'm in no way equating myself to great or respected writers, but I wish I could do more of this waiting and establishing. I talked to an editor once who told me that the problem has to be introduced early on to keep attention and to get to the action rather than focus on the establishing. (And to blend descriptions like the motive into the plot after it gets started.) I suppose Whitehead does this with the postal shooting, but episodes in the story are so broken up it is hard to see if this is the real plot. So is waiting good? Or bad? Or is waiting just for contemporary lit and not young adult because our young adults are impatient?

Oh and for your portfolio, I mentioned you on my latest blog.

Josie Rush said:

Melissa- I think John Henry is simply working because he has to work. The same way you couldn't say a talented teacher is teaching because of pride, you can't say John Henry is hammering bits because of pride. However, remember John Henry agreed to compete against the white man. Of course there was more money in it for him, but he dreamed of killing the white man the night before the contest. Also, John Henry can be prideful and still have compassion, so it's reasonable to say he's proud and upset about Tommy's death. The two aren't exclusive. And, while we haven't seen how Whitehead is going to play this yet, John Henry died competing against a machine. To die in competition in order to prove you are the best (if that is the motive in this particular retelling) definitely shows a certain amount of pride. But, as you said, it's too early to say if this is the sole motivation or not.
Aja- I agree, the story is so broken up it's a little difficult to uncover the main plot. And I think it's a good strategy to give your readers a bit at a time, so they have more motivation to keep reading. However, sometimes if things are revealed too late, actions don't make sense, and it's difficult for a reader to get fully involved the first time around. As for why the pattern differs for young adult novels- I assume what you mentioned about varying levels of patience has something to do with it. Though there are more ya novels that seem to hold information back until the end nowadays.

I linked to this blog in my blog, just so you know. My response to this one is kind of in there.

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