The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #4018   Message #21244
Posted By: Peter Turner
12-Feb-98 - 02:09 AM
Thread Name: Origins: John Henry
Subject: The origins of John Henry
Does anyone know what "John Henry" is really about? It's first impression is of the power of the human spirit and the often inspiring nature of tragedy. This interpretation makes us take the song at its word. But I've heard it argued that we should be more skeptical in interpreting the lyrics, that the song actually works in favor of the railroad bosses and against the men who work for them. In this view, it justifies the torturous labor the men are asked to do, and it creates a situation in which a man being worked to death is a hero. It is, in fact, not a song that many politically conscious rail workers would enjoy. There are all sorts of possibilities it never allows, like John Henry resenting being overburdened, or John Henry refusing to work himself to death. Especially helpful would be if someone can trace the history of the song for me, but any thoughts at all would be appreciated, enjoyed. Thank you.