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LostInParadise's avatar

How are we to interpret the legend of John Henry?

Asked by LostInParadise (25107points) February 17th, 2010

For the story and one interpretation, go here I suppose that on one level you could say it is just a story and leave it at that. But there is so much symbolism in the story that it begs for interpretation. Is it to be interpreted in terms of race, as the article suggests? I always thought of it as being in terms of man versus machine. From this point of view, should it be viewed as a triumph of man? John Henry does win. On the other hand, the machine gets to work another day and John Henry does not.

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6 Answers

TheLoneMonk's avatar

He ought to have eaten a healthier diet and gotten regular check-ups to prevent his heart from exploding…

I have always loved this story and I have never considered John Henry a loser to the machine. I saw him as a symbol of freedom and proof that if you work hard for what you believe you might not always succeed but there is triumph in the fight.

I’d go in more depth but coffee awaits…

Cruiser's avatar

The message I got was that because, jobs were so scarce that the men of that time were so desperate for a job and would work even in horrible conditions just to have a job. This machine was a threat to their jobs and the legend of John Henry drives the point home that let us keep our jobs and they are willing to work hard enough, harder than any machine and to even die just to keep their job.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

On some level, it could be looked at as a labor versus management story. The machine eventually did replace workers, and I suspect was cheaper for management to use. People were probably put out of work because of the machine. Perhaps John Henry was fighting against that?

ucme's avatar

Is he related to John Thomas? Or is that no more than a phallusey.

CMaz's avatar

Man against Machine.

The locking of horns between the new and the old.

stratman37's avatar

The machine is Wal Mart.

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