I have trouble reconciling two passages from Spoon River Anthology.
Harry Carey Goodhue, having lost his miscellaneous fights, comes out in favor of prohibition as an act of revenge:
"I ... smote the bank and the water works,
And the business men with prohibition,
And made Spoon River pay the cost
Of the fights that I had lost"
I understand how prohibition would hurt distilleries, bars, liquor stores (if they existed in 1915) etc, but I don't understand how it would hurt business men in general and the water works and the bank.
What complicates things and makes it harder for me to understand Masters's position on prohibition is this passage from Sexsmith the Dentist:
"...do you think the poker room
Of Johnnie Taylor, and Burchard’s bar
Had been closed up if the money lost
And spent for beer had not been turned,
By closing them, to Thomas Rhodes
For larger sales of shoes and blankets,
And children’s cloaks and gold-oak cradles?"
"Had been" obviously means "would have been," but apart from that, yes, I understand the logic of this statement: if people don't spend money on alcohol, they can spend more of it on other things, like Rhodes' "shoes and gingham |
Flour and bacon, overalls, clothing."
Can you help me understand why Harry Carey Goodhue thought he was hurting businessmen and the bank and the waterworks by supporting prohibition?
1 Answer | Add Yours
Masters' views certainly do come out in different manifestations in different poems in this anthology. But one thing to remember is that this is what we might call a "social realist" work. In other words, he is trying to present the social realities (albeit in hindsight from beyond/in the grave) of how people lived and how they perceived their social worlds. Therefore, each person will have necessarily different perspectives on things. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Painter have very different perspectives on the failure of their marriage. This shows how differently people can view things even in such an intimate or small town context.
So, when you notice a discrepancy of political commentary between two characters, this just shows the differing opinions of two different people. However, even though Harry supports prohibition and Sexsmith is against it, both of their motives have to do with their opposition to greed than they do with prohibition.
Harry Carey Goodhue believed himself to be a champion of the poor, of the underdogs. He says he is Chase Henry's "spiritual brother" because he supports Chase's efforts to shut down the saloons for shutting him off (not letting him drink). One might infer that Harry supports Chase's right to drink freely, which is confusing because this would mean he's against prohibition. Harry never makes an overt statement about the evils of drinking, so we can't say for sure what Harry's thoughts on this were. Harry supported prohibition in order to take revenge on saloons and businesses. This is what his statements are all about: fighting the big businesses that take advantage of the poor. Within Harry's context, his attack on prohibition was part of a larger attack on all greedy businesses; not just saloons. But considering the context of your question, less saloons could mean less patrons to stores adjacent to saloons and so on. One business can help/supplement another. But from Harry's perspective, he supported prohibition only to attack businesses in general.
Sexsmith's statements are also cynical in regards to institutions. He claims that Daisy Fraser would not have been driven off her land if it had not been for encroaching industry (a direct reference to the decline of small town atmosphere and culture). He suggests that Thomas Rhodes supported closing Burchard's bar (thereby supporting prohibition, if this was the case) because closing it would divert business his way.
One could argue that part of Harry's motive, in supporting prohibition, would be to get revenge on the other businesses. If one business fails, others will follow. One could also argue that Sexsmith's idea is that if one business fails then others will prosper: a differing view on how businesses can thrive or fail. Neither of these points are clear in regards to how each man viewed business strategy.
What is clear is that both men were skeptical of big businesses. Harry was against it all, including the saloons. He was in favor of prohibition only as part of his revenge. Sexsmith was simply skeptical of it all. He was opposed to prohibition and/or the closing of Burchard's bar because he believed Rhodes favored prohibition in order to profit from it. Two men, one in favor and the other opposed to prohibition, but actually for similar reasons: they were both against corrupt businessmen.
Master's was trying the show the nuance of different viewpoints on prohibition, business, and other aspects of small town life. Incidentally, he did write an article against prohibition in 1925 and liked to have a drink so he was against prohibition. But through these two characters, the one common view is an attack on greed. Their support or opposition to prohibition is an effect of that larger view in greed.
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