A MAN AIN'T NOTHIN BUT A MAN: The Adventures of John Henry by John Oliver Killens

A MAN AIN'T NOTHIN BUT A MAN: The Adventures of John Henry

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Here is none other than the original John Henry of Chittling Switch, Alabama. On his way to telling how John Henry proves the superiority of his ""nacherl"" manhood over the machine, Killens fills us in on his hero's earlier fight to win respect for his labor from the white ""capn's,"" how he wins and beds the true-hearted Polly Ann, and how, from time to time, his wanderlust drives him from home-loving Polly Ann to the whiskey bottle and the arms of fancy ladies. For all his backsliding, John Henry is an idealized, larger than life symbol. Killens, a leading black American novelist, is a fine vernacular storyteller, but in fleshing out John Henry he loses the bite of the legend without creating a real character or giving us an essentially new perspective. Readers may well be divided between those who see Killens' John Henry as an archetype of the black man's spiritual triumph and those who find both him and Polly Ann to be little more than sentimentalized stereotypes. Comparing this with the vigor and concision of the folk song, we side with the latter.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1975
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Little, Brown