Monday, January 22

Under the Lion's Paw

I thought this painting (American Gothic by Grant Wood, c. 1930) was the perfect accompaniment to a discussion of "Under the Lion's Paw." We see the tidy, well-kept farm in the background, painstakingly maintained with a fresh coat of whitewash. It seems we are observing the couple just after Haskins' confrontation with Butler (remember, Haskins threatened him with a pitchfork.) "The woman came to light as a small, timid, and discouraged-looking woman, but still pretty, in a thin and sorrowful way." (812) Mrs. Haskins looks weary, defeated, and confused. She stares into the distance, perhaps watching Butler's retreat. She wonders how anyone could treat them like he has, but she's too tired to feel any rage. "Haskins was a tall man, with a thin, gloomy face...And his sallow face, though hard and set, was pathetic somehow." (813) Mr Haskins stares straight into our eyes, his fist still clenched tightly around the handle of the pitchfork, and there is something cold and terrifying in his gaze. He has tasted injustice, and he does not like the taste at all. And yet he is resigned. He has bowed to the unfairness and the wrong, because he sees no other way. This story is a powerful commentary on greed, and it calls for fair treatment of the disenfranchised working class of America. The American ideal, after all, is that with enough hard honest work and sacrifice, any man should be able to build a life for himself and his family, and no one ought to be able to take that away.