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October 7, 00
“Like a Winding Sheet” by Ann Petry
In Ann Petry’s “Like a Winding Sheet”, we see a black man mind abducted by the disease called racism, which he try’s to overcome by applying the values put upon him by his family. Having been living with racism so long, he struggles to continue to fight for his family beliefs.
“Like a Winding Sheet” is about a Blackman name Mr. Johnson who lives with his wife Mae. They both work the night shift, in a labor plant. Johnson is always late for work because the aches in his legs. One Friday on the thirteen day of the month, Johnson went to work and got chewed up by his boss for being late. Then Johnson got rejected at the all-night-restaurant by the coffee lady. Every time someone rejects or come off inappropriate, Johnson looks at the situation as a racial insult and gets extremely mad. The only way to control his anger is the values bestowed on him by his family’s upbringings. Can his family’s values hold value when his anger gets unbearable?
In “Like a Winding Sheet”, Ann Petry uses structure to show the birth to the death of Johnson’s struggles. She also shows symbols like the “lipstick” and “Wind Sheet” to argue why Johnson struggles to continue to fight for his family’ belief, not to hit on women.
In the beginning Johnson had an argument with his wife Mae about why she should go to work despite it was Friday the Thirteen. Petry states, “He couldn’t bring
himself to talk to her roughly or threaten to strike her like a lot of men might have done. He wasn’t made that way” (85), which states his family’s belief, the birth. This first argument symbolizes the beginning of Johnson “winding in a sheet”.
Johnson’s belief is tested when he has a discussion with his boss Ms. Scott, which is a white women that yells at him for being late and calls him a “Nigger” in the process. Johnson gets mad and wants to hit his boss for being racist but, “ He stood motionless for a moment and turned away from the red lipstick on her mouth that made him remember that the foremen was a women” (86). The lipstick symbolizes a woman which makes Johnson recall his family’s values. Johnson continues to “Wind in the sheet”, growing.
Johnson’s belief is tested again when he went to the all-night-restaurant to get a hot cup of coffee after work. He stood in line with the others, but when his turn came up “No more coffee for awhile”, the white coffee lady said. Johnson got mad “He wanted to do was hit her so hard that the scarlet lipstick on her mouth would smear and spread over her nose, her chin, out toward her cheeks; so hard that she would never toss her head again and refuse a man a cup of coffee because he was black” (88). As the conflicts continue and Johnson got madder the “lipstick” starts to less symbolize a woman. The “winding sheet” also continues to get tighter as Johnson continues to grow.
Finally Johnson belief was tested for the last time against his wife, Mae. Johnson came home after being mad all day. He started snapping out on his wife about her gum popping and her nagging about him sitting on her work pants that was laid over the back of the chair. By now Johnson was so tight in the “winding sheet” he probably couldn’t breathe. Mae said “You’re nothing but an old hungry nigger trying to act touch and” (0). After that statement Johnson was waiting for Mae to giggle to represent a joking matter, but he didn’t give her a chance to, and “She was standing close to him and that funny tingling started in his finger tips, went fast up his arms and sent his fist shooting straight for her face” (0). “ She screamed that he realized he had hit her in the mouth- so hard that the dark red lipstick had blurred and spread over her full lips, reaching up toward the tips of her nose, down toward her chin, out toward her cheeks” (0). The lipstick symbolized nothing at the end. The only way to get out of a “winding sheet” is to unwind yourself out of it, “He groped for a phrase, a word, something to describe what this thing was like that was happening to him and he thought it was like being enmeshed in a winding sheet-that was it-like a winding sheet” (0). Johnson continued to hit her repeatedly to get out of the “winding sheet”. Johnson died because he didn’t continue to fight for his family’s belief, not to hit on woman.
In Ann Petry’s “ Like a Winding Sheet” I argued that the no matter how mad you get, you can’t keep it bottled up inside of you for so long, eventually you won’t be able to breath. You will be in a “winding sheet” and one day you will have to unwind from the sheet to survive. People come across a lot of battles and walk away from them because something or somebody gave them a tool, or a way to get out of a fight. At some point in your life those tools or ways of getting you out of a fight will lessen as you get madder and angrier, and you hope another tool come along or another way comes along to stop you from using you fist. If that tool or way does not come along the old tools become no use and you are forced to unwind out of your sheet.
Petry, Ann. “Like a Winding Sheet.” Literature and the Writing Process. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan x Day, and Robert Funk. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ Prentice Hall, Inc. 1. 84-0.
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