Resistance is Futile

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"Mrs. Goodwin, why did he die at the end?  Mrs. Goodwin, if he beat the steam engine, why did he have to die?  Did he win or lose?" (142).
                Colson Whithead, John Henry Days

In class on Friday, Dr. Jerz said that the legend of John Henry has become a story that some African Americans see as a negative reminder of the past.  (Please, correct me if my memory is wrong about this).  As Whitehead suggests above, it is ambiguous as to whether or not John Henry was victorious in his fight against the steam-powered hammer.  While he did finish more quickly than his technological opponent, he perished in the end.  The fact that the story focuses on an African American man's victory in a challenge over unskilled labor, a victory that resulted in the man's death, might suggest the idea that African Americans cannot prevail in physical challenges, which in academia are considered to be of less difficulty than intellectual challenges.  When you interpret the story this way, the legend of John Henry does seem to have a racist implication.

However, that's not how I see it.  To me, John Henry was a martyr for the cause of human perseverance over technology.  This interpretation is not about race whatsoever, but about humanity in general.  I think Whitehead uses the legend of John Henry as an allegory to newspaper journalists at the time in which the story takes place.

"J. hasn't worked for the web before but knew it was only a matter of time; new media is welfare for the middle class.  A year ago the web didn't exist, and now J. has several hitherto unemployable acquaintances who were now picking up steady paychecks because of it" (19).

J., a freelance journalist for paper newspapers, must adjust to the introduction of a new form of media, just like the railroad workers had to find a way to retain an occupation despite the introduction of a new cost-effective means for building railroads.  Of course, this is just speculation at this point, but it seems like the focus of this book is on the plight of the journalists rather than the struggle of John Henry.

You get a virtual cookie if you understand my title.



Cookies are irrelevant.

Jessica Orlowski said:

Title: Well, I don't want a cookie- I understand that they do nasty things to your computer. But I will take a stab anyway... I don't know if I'm thinking too deeply into it, but it sort of makes me think of the fate of the poor mountains that John Henry and his men plowed out; it was futile to resist the power of man, just as it was futile for man to resist machine. Something bigger and better will come along.

Aja Hannah said:

And like we were talking in class, if John Henry died in the end, does J. (if he is a parallel) complete his journey of junketeering or writing for the internet? Or does he die (or in some less painful way) and fail in the end?

Aja Hannah said:

Oh and I also mentioned you in my recent blog in case you wanted to know for the upcoming portfolio.

Dr. Jerz: Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service ours. "The Best of Both Worlds, I and II" are possibly my favorite episodes of TNG. It's a close call between them and "The Inner Light," "Chain of Command, I and II," and "Tapestry." (PS: Have you ever watched this? Just a warning, you'll have the song stuck in your head for hours.)

Jess: Very nice interpretation! But, I suppose I should have said "You get a virtual cookie if you know which franchise my title references." Dr. Jerz got it right; it was Star Trek :) However, your view of it is much more literary.

Aja: Thanks for linking to me! I was wondering the same thing. Perhaps the book has already foreshadowed J.'s death.

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