Using "Like a Winding Sheet," discuss the relationship between race and agency?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suppose you could use this story to argue that a person's race can deprive them of their agency, at least to some extent.

Johnson seems, at the beginning of the story, to be a nice man.  He seems to be in love with his wife and to treat her well.

But when he goes to work, things get worse for him.  Work is hard, and the boss calls him a nigger.  When she belittles him in this racist way, she starts to put pressure on him.

From there, though, his perception of racism is what hurts him most.  He hangs back in the diner because of race.  He feels that the waitress has refused to serve him because of race, even though it is not true.

Because of these real and imagined slights, he loses his agency.  He is unable to stop himself from becoming violent when he is at home.

So the story as a whole sends a mixed message.  Racism is taking away some of his agency.  It is pushing him to act in certain ways.  But it is still his perceptions that end up mattering most.  He uses his own agency to stop from hitting the two white women, but cannot stop himself from hitting his wife.

Read the study guide:
Like a Winding Sheet

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question