Response to “Like a Winding Sheet” by Ann Petry
The short story “Like a Winding Sheet” by Ann Petry opens with a young African American man reluctant to get out of bed for his night shift. We are introduced to his lovely wife, who is portrayed as affectionate and silly. The impression is that the two, Johnson and Mae, have a healthy marriage and a good friendship. Though Mae doesn’t want to leave the house because it is Friday the 13th, Johnson is able to gently coax and persuade her to go to work. He does this because “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” (843).
As Johnson arrives late to his night shift, he is confronted by the female foreman, who calls him get mad…You got the right to cuss me four ways to Sunday but I ain’t letting nobody call me a nigger” (844).
The woman backs off and apologizes, telling Johnson to get to work. Unfortunately, Johnson replays this scene in his head over and over during his shift, forcing himself to swallow his anger because “he couldn’t bring himself to hit a woman” (844).
However, instead of letting his anger go and focusing on his work, Johnson imagines what it would have felt like to hit her. He imagines hitting her so hard that he could have “cracked her narrow lips wide open with just one blow” (845).
Later on, after his night shift has finished and he is on his way home, Johnson stops to get a cup of coffee. However, as he reaches the front of the line the coffee has run out and the young girl at the cashier says “No more coffee for a while” (846) with a little flip of her hair. Johnson seems to think that she won’t give him coffee because he’s black, when really it seems like the coffee has just run out and they have to make more. Also, he takes great offense to her little flip of the head, seeing it as “expressive of her contempt for him” (847).
In American culture, the workplace environment of the average worker can vary dramatically from person to person within different occupations. Different occupations represent different cultural values within society. In a case study on myself, I found out that bartenders are exposed to many diverse kinds of cultural values. I am a bartender here in Oswego at a local college bar and I have found ...
However, as Johnson leaves the coffee shop he doesn’t see the girl flip her hair of her neck again, and it would seem that the young girl just has a habit of flipping her hair, not as an insult to Johnson. Unfortunately Johnson also thinks about hitting this young girl, “so hard that the scarlet lipstick on her mouth would smear and spread over her nose, her chin, out toward her cheeks (846).
Johnson leaves the coffee store and continues on his way home.
After arriving at home, Johnson is in a terrible mood and winces at seeing his wife toss her hair away from the back of her neck. As they are talking as she is teasing him as normal, she calls him an “old hungry nigger” (848), and after a day of suppressing his anger, he cracks and loses control and begins hitting his wife, not just once, but over and over. This ending really upset me because I could see it coming, and throughout the whole story I was just hoping that Johnson would be able to control himself. He spent the whole day unable to express his anger toward his white female boss or the white coffee girl, and then he comes home and takes it out on his wife, who loves him and cares for him. But it seems like there should have been some outlet for him to express his anger without wanting to hit anyone, let alone his wife.