Edgar Lee Masters

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In "Butch Weldy," by Edgar Lee Masters, what is the purpose of the trial and disillusionment?

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Edgar Lee Masters is an American Modernist, a term which refers to authors who wrote primarily during the 1900-1950 time period. As such, he often wrote about the disillusionment that many Americans felt toward their individual lives and toward the attainability of the American Dream. Masters' poem, "Butch Weldy" applies that disillusionment to American tradition and religion. At the beginning of the epitaph, Weldy says,

"After I got religion and steadied down / They gave me a job in the canning works."

Notice that it is only after Weldy accepts the religious tradition of the town that he is offered a job. However, religion and employment do not improve Weldy's life; in contrast, the job that he obtained through "getting religion" ends up causing him to lose his sight and to become embittered toward his employer and the community in general.

As Weldy witnesses what is most likely a workers' compensation or civil trial against his employer, his disillusionment reaches its peak when he is told that because an employee caused the accident--and not Weldy's actual employer--Weldy will not be compensated for his injuries. Weldy's last line,

"I didn't know him at all"

illustrates his disbelief that he has been left on his own, physically blind, and with the realization that he was figuratively blind to his community's true nature. He didn't really know them, not just the man who caused his accident, but also the people who supposedly cared for him when he became religious. He wonders where those supporters are now that he is struggling.

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