Analysis of Colson Whitehead's 'John Henry Days'

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Thesis: Colson Whitehead's John Henry Days is a quintessentially postmodern novel because of its cynical tone, its confluence of imagery, and its treatment of social and existential alienation. I. When the protagonist first arrives in West Virginia, his sense of alienation and isolation become poignant: setting the stage for what is becoming a postmodern novel. His experience checking into the hotel as a journalist offers telling evidence of the theme of alienation: "The desk man at the hotel gave him a press packet when he registered, checking his name off a list, but J. hasn't bothered to look at it so he doesn't know what time dinner is," (p. 693). The imagery that Whitehead uses solidifies the core theme of social alienation. Here, the protagonist's name is disembodied. His name is on the list, legitimizing his status in the society. On the list, he belongs to a group a professional organization. He is accountable to his profession, and yet, the protagonist does not feel a genuine sense of belonging. This trend continues throughout John Henry Days, and is one of the things that characterizes the novel as being postmodern. John Henry Days addresses a protagonist who seems completely emotionally detached from his surroundings; and yet his journalistic attitude makes it so that he has keen intellectual insight into what is going on regarding the symbolic meanings of the John Henry symbolism. Journalism also happens to be a postmodern profession in the eyes of the

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