John Henry, Steel-Driving Man

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Sample Main Idea Statement, Supporting Details; Summary and Response using Quotes and Transition Words and Phrases:

 

A Third Draft of a revised Main Idea Statement, revised with a student one day:

John Henry worked on the railroad hammering spikes into the ground. After he beat a steam drill in a race to hammer steel spikes into the ground, he died a hero because as a common man, he beat a machine

Three Supporting Details in quotes and taken directly from the text:

1. “I’ll beat you to the bottom or die”

2. “John Henry was hammering on the right side, the big steam drill on the left”

3. “Before that steam drill could beat him down, he hammered his fool self to death.”

Sample Summary, emphasizing words that point to evidence.

John Henry became a hero when he beat a machine in a race to hammer steel spikes into the ground. As a common man, he beat a machine. According to the author, John Henry said, “I’ll beat you to the bottom or die.” John Henry became a hero because he beat a machine; then he died, exhausted. The myth of man holding on to tradition and resisting modern industrial society comes through strongly in this song. Moreover, he made a commitment to beat the machine or die, and he did both. This is more to support the idea of a man holding on to tradition, resisting modern society.

Sample Response also emphasizing words that point to evidence.

I think that the author is glorifying death and clearly supports the myth of John Henry as a hero, but the author also says that John Henry was a “fool.” Even though John Henry proved that a common man beat a machine, he died proving his point, and that might not be the best way to prove something. So he proved his point, but he didn’t really get much long term enjoyment or satisfaction. The Author states that John Henry “hammered his fool self to death.” The word “fool” implies that even though he comes off as a hero, the song, in a fond tone, calls him a “fool.” Also, this version of the song ends so sadly because he leaves his sweetheart alone in the world. So even though he’s a hero, the only thing gained is the inspiration of others, which ultimately, might be the overall intended meaning. One can be a hero if one dies for the greater good of all.

  1. John Henry was a railroad man,

He worked from six ’till five,

“Raise ’em up bullies and let ’em drop down,

I’ll beat you to the bottom or die.”

  1. John Henry said to his captain:

“You are nothing but a common man,

Before that steam drill shall beat me down,

I’ll die with my hammer in my hand.”

  1. John Henry said to the Shakers:

“You must listen to my call,

Before that steam drill shall beat me down,

I’ll jar these mountains till they fall.”

  1. John Henry’s captain said to him:

“I believe these mountains are caving in.”

John Henry said to his captain: “Oh, Lord!”

“That’s my hammer you hear in the wind.”

  1. John Henry he said to his captain:

“Your money is getting mighty slim,

When I hammer through this old mountain,

Oh Captain will you walk in?”

  1. John Henry’s captain came to him

With fifty dollars in his hand,

He laid his hand on his shoulder and said:

“This belongs to a steel driving man.”

  1. John Henry was hammering on the right side,

The big steam drill on the left,

Before that steam drill could beat him down,

He hammered his fool self to death.

  1. They carried John Henry to the mountains,

From his shoulder his hammer would ring,

She caught on fire by a little blue blaze

I believe these old mountains are caving in.

  1. John Henry was lying on his death bed,

He turned over on his side,

And these were the last words John Henry said

“Bring me a cool drink of water before I die.”

  1. John Henry had a little woman,

Her name was Pollie Ann,

He hugged and kissed her just before he died,

Saying, “Pollie, do the very best you can.”

  1. John Henry’s woman heard he was dead,

She could not rest on her bed,

She got up at midnight, caught that No. 4 train,

“I am going where John Henry fell dead.”

  1. They carried John Henry to that new burying ground

His wife all dressed in blue,

She laid her hand on John Henry’s cold face,

“John Henry I’ve been true to you.”

 

John Henry’ BIG BILL BROONZY (1951) Country Blues Guitar Legend

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7wluszxDrY

A version from American Folksinger Woodie Guthrie

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66r3zZoO4dQ

More information about the song

http://www.shmoop.com/woody-guthrie-john-henry/meaning.html

 

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