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The Legend of John Henry - Essay Example

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Name Instructor Date The Legend of John Henry The legend of John Henry is an African American tale of power, strength, and perseverance that has been passed down from generation to generation for over a hundred years. The legend of this man has taken on a life of its own and evolved from a simple folk song into a powerful symbol for an oppressed people…
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The Legend of John Henry
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Download file to see previous pages Recent interpretations include Disney’s short film John Henry and Julius Lester’s children’s book John Henry. Disney’s film pictures John Henry as a historical civil rights hero, a symbol of African American empowerment, while Lester’s book illustrates Henry as a Christ-like figure, attaching a more mystical connotation of the hero. The different interpretations of John Henry as a mythical hero in black folklore reveal how he has become the embodiment of black freedom, dreams, and strength. As these adaptations show, his name holds a symbolic power that allows audiences to appropriate his heroics according to their wish. This tale is presented differently in most of children literature versions. Walt Disney’s ‘John Henry’ film and Lester’s ‘John Henry’ book are examined., with a goal of determining if it is necessary for people to deviate from the original story when talking about this myth. In 2000, Walt Disney Studios created a film adaptation of the John Henry myth in which they transformed him into a selfless hero. This film was intended to introduce children to the “the doers and dreamers that made America great,” a knowledge Disney claims “no childhood should be without” (Website). A common feature of Disney adaptations of various fairytales, legends, and myths is the didactic messages that have been incorporated into them. In The Legend of John Henry, John uses his strength to benefit the people rather than have it displayed merely to demonstrate his own power. In this way, Disney tries to educate children on qualities they should develop within themselves. Placing John Henry before them as a role model, Walt Disney Studios attaches to him Western values, those that adults wish to instill in children of America. At the same time, the film can also be seen as Disney’s attempt to create a hero that children of African American descent can identify with and be proud of. John Henry is the first animated African American protagonist created by Disney (Web). The theme of the film is evident from the opening; it begins with the narrator, an African American woman, saying, “Let me tell you about my John Henry, who laid down his life for his dream” (film). The film goes on to portray Henry as an emancipated slave that swears never again to be in chains. At one point Henry tells his wife, “Polly, if they steal our dreams they put a chain around our souls, somebody’s got to stand tall, believe me” (film). The idea of Henry being a slave is not found in original variations of the legend, which focus more on his mythical upbringing and displays of strength. In this way Disney attempts to historicize Henry; as a slave contextualized within a specific time period he appears more real. This realism helps to verify the message of the story; the more believable the underdog legend appears the more powerful its message is to audiences. At the same time however, Disney also presents the idea that a hero’s reputation extends beyond the limits of his or her own reality. It is mentioned in the film that after John Henry joined the railroad gang, the rumors about his strength and achievements started growing. This referral separates the man from the myth while simultaneously maintaining the integrity and magic of the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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