Like a Winding Sheet by Ann Petry is an intriguing story that represents the racial discrimination against African Americans get and how it impacts on their behaviors, mainly how it affects the women. The main character, Johnson, in the essay, faces a series frustrations from things that he cannot control that eventually result in him losing control of himself. The person who acts as a punching bag is his wife Mae whom he beats up for no reason, but as a result of the anger in him, that has been accumulating. This paper will discuss the impacts of racism on African Americans, class difference, and misogyny based on the story.
Through foreshadow, the writer predicts that something terrible will happen. The writer stresses the date which was Friday the 13th. From this, the reader anticipates that something important is going to happen. The writer builds on this premonition of doom through the subsequent series of events. Everything keeps going wrong indicating something big will ultimately g wrong too. Foreshadow efficiently brings out the omen of doom.
There is symbolism where Mae says, Looks like a winding sheet a shroud. You look like a huckleberry-in a winding sheet- (Petry, Ann). A shroud is a clothing used to wrap a dead body. Huckleberry refers to a small measure of something. The winding sheet which was white represents the white people. The huckleberry represents Johnson as being small and unimportant. The use of this statement symbolizes the racism that exists and how the white peoples discrimination of African Americans has led to the African-Americans becoming dead,' symbolized in Johnson being in a shroud. Using symbolism, the writer efficiently introduces the crucial themes of the story.
At the plant, we see misogyny in Johnsons attitude toward the forelady. The writer says, He could never remember to refer to the boss who was female as a forelady even in his mind (Petry, Ann). The statement shows that Johnson was not pleased with the idea of having a female boss. To him, the position was only befitting to a man, and for this reason, it came to him as a reflex to refer to the boss as foreman. Also, at the workplace, the chatter of the female workers annoys Johnson. The very fundamental reason for this is the fact that they were women snarling and snapping at each other. We also see chauvinism in the last part of the story where Johnson finally loses control of himself and beats up his wife. Johnson beats up his wife despite his belief that it is wrong to lay your hands on a woman. It is easy for him to take it out on his wife because she is a helpless female and could not hit back the same way a man did (Petry, Ann). All these portray Johnsons misogynistic attitude.
The discrimination also impacts on the stability of the African-American families. The bias that the African Americans face at their workplaces and other public places makes them feel frustrated and angry at the world. The frustration and anger from the daily routines build up within them. The continual frustrations and anger eventually lead to them becoming violent. The angry victims on most occasions take out this anger on the wrong people. Their families are the ones who experience this violence, and those experiencing displeasure that is caused by the discrimination take it out on them. In the story, the white boss at work and the white waitress discriminate Johnson on a racial basis and this makes him angry. The forelady calls him nigger.' The statement provokes him to the point where he clenches his fits and almost punches the forelady. The frustration and anger build up within him, and he goes home angry and irritable. He ends up taking out this on his wife although he loved her. The result is the family has broken apart, the cause being racial discrimination (Harps, Shauna Nicole). Johnsons experience is a clear depiction of the severe impact of racism on African American families.
There is the depiction of class difference. The class difference manifests in how Johnson interacts with his boss. Johnson represents the proletariat, and the forelady represents the bourgeoisie. The work in the plant is carried out by those in the same class as Johnson to make the bourgeoisie rich. The workers suffer exploitation. Johnson complains of lack of enough time to rest and leg pains as he spends long hours standing at work. The boss ignores his complaints and cautions him about being late. The workers are exploited by the rich. They are subject to long working hours and severe working conditions. Johnson thinks to himself that if it were up to him, he would see to it that there were seats at the plant to minimize on the standing during working hence make the work easier. The continued exploitation of the workers leads to the creation of a high resentment. The resentment is seen in Johnson clenching his fists and wishing he could punch the forelady. Eventually, the exploitation would lead to a revolution by the laborers (Sharma, Deepika). In this case, it is regrettable that the person who gets to experience the consequences of the exploitation is Mae. Through these events, the story portrays how class difference plays out in the society.
It is interesting to note that the frustrations that Johnson experiences at his job with his White boss makes him blame everything on racism. At the coffee urn, when the white waitress tells him that there will be no more coffee for a while he gets outraged and thinks that it is because of him being black that he does not get coffee. It was right that there was no more coffee indeed and the waitress was not racist. Personally, I think Johnson is not to blame for this reaction as due to his previous encounters with discrimination it is what he expects to be the explanation for things like this. I believe due to the pressure from the society; Johnson is at a loss on what to do with the problems he faces. From this, it is apparent that racism experiences have clouded his judgment and he thinks every white person is a racist.
I think the inability to accept things we cannot control is the very fundamental reason the story ends tragically. Johnson is frustrated by everything that happens to him and wants to find someone to take the blame. He thinks that if he punches his boss, for instance, it will make him feel better. The fact that the working conditions are poor is not in his place to change, but what Johnson should try to accept this without feeling so angry since there it is not within his power to do anything about it. The tension and anger he feels due to this helplessness result in him beating up his wife senselessly. He realizes what he has done is an abomination, but he cannot bring himself to stop. The inability to be at peace with himself because of things that happen to him outside his control eventually results in him losing self-control.
In conclusion, Like a Winding Sheet is a story that tells of the struggle African Americans face due to racial injustice and how it affects their behaviors and eventually tears their families apart.
Harps, Shauna Nicole. "Race-Related Stress, Racial Socialization, and African American Adolescent Adjustment: Examining the Mediating Role of Racial Identity." (2005).
Petry, Ann. Like a Winding Sheet. Miss Muriel and Other Stories. 8th ed., Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 2017.
Sharma, Deepika. "Book Review of Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, Volume 1." Arthshastra: Indian Journal of Economics & Research 4.5 (2015): 51-54.
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