Thursday, October 29, 2009

American Literature--Outline for "Steel Drivin' Man"

Outline for “The Steel Drivin’ Man”

1. Background:

As a boy, John Henry had won his freedom after saving his former master from “a watery grave.” (Note: This seems to be a recurring theme in early African-American folk tales: the fantasy of the fair-minded former master who keeps his word. The reality, of course, was often much different.)

Evidently, he stayed on the plantation until he grew up, but the story does not delve too much into his boyhood.
2. John Henry grows up to be a mighty man, a strapping 6 feet tall, 250 pounds of muscle, but with a pure and good heart.

3. John Henry is employed by the “benevolent” Captain Walters, a railroad contractor, as a steel driver.

4. John Henry falls in love with Lucy, a slave back on the plantation where he grew up.

So John Henry works very hard so that he can earn enough money to buy Lucy’s freedom and marry her. He earns three silver dollars per week wielding his 10-pound hammer, the heaviest hammer on the job site.
5. Complication: A Yankee Agent comes to town and dangles a “steam-drill,” a new invention, in front of Captain Walters that reportedly can do the job of 10 steel drivers.

(Note: This implies that if the Civil War hadn’t abolished slavery, the upcoming technological age might have been the impetus to end slavery.)

However, Captain Walters isn’t buying into this new-fangled device, but to get rid of the Yankee scoundrel, once and for all, he...
6. Makes a wager with the Yankee, betting that John Henry could outwork the steam-drill.

The terms of the wager: if John Henry outworks the steam-drill, the Yankee would pay Captain Walters $500.00. If the steam-drill wins, Captain Walters would order one of the machines. However, the Captain fails to set a specific time for when the challenge would take place.
7. Captain Walters tells John Henry about the bet with the Yankee (but conveniently omitting the terms) and makes a proposition:

He will pay John Henry $50.00 if he can outwork the steam-drill.
8. John Henry, anxious to win Lucy’s freedom and hand in marriage, accepts the challenge.

To prepare for the next day’s challenge, he cleans every speck of dirt from his hammer.
9. The Yankee, taking advantage of the Captain’s failure to set a time for early morning (the cool part of the day), shows up for the challenge at the hottest part of the day.

10. Despite the great heat and the obvious mechanized advantages of the steam-drill, John Henry outworks the machine, and wins the bet for Captain Walters.

11. However, victory comes at a price: John Henry dies, probably of heat exhaustion.

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