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The Undetermined Amount.

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Amy Houser                                                                        Houser 1

English 113

Mrs. Lomax

October 5, 2002

The Undetermined Amount

     A day in Johnson’s life reveals several confrontations that enrage every fiber of his being. But Johnson, a man with many morals is able to push his anger down inside along with many other things. Johnson in “Like a Winding Sheet” eventually releases his encroaching rage through his tense, tingling hands.

     Johnson is an African American male who has a job working the late shift at a manufacturing plant. The story opens with Johnson lying in bed with the sheets wrapped tightly around his body; this is where the story gets its title “The Winding Sheet”.

     Johnson’s job requires him to stand on his feet for long periods of time, which make his legs ache. Getting out of bed in the mornings can be very challenging especially when he does not get enough rest. Johnson’s wife, Mae also works the late shift at a plant on the other side of town. Johnson and Mae have a loving relationship, and Johnson always treats Mae with compassion and respect.

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     Johnson is feeling apprehensive about seeing his boss and puts his head down hoping to avoid confrontation. She calls out his name and he can see the anger in her face. Johnson is feeling bad about being late again and starts making excuses for his tardiness. The forelady slips up and refers to him and other workers “niggers”. Johnson is outraged and would like nothing more than to release his anger through his hand on to her face but he cannot because he feels that to hit a woman is wrong. He knows that a man can do more damage in a fight than a woman. Johnson knows to restrain his anger. Johnson conveys to her that she has the right to be upset, but no one can call him that name. The forelady backs up from Johnson, as she notices the vain swelling in his forehead.  She did not apologize but merely tells Johnson the word slipped and get back to work.

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     Johnson looses control of his body and begins to release all the pinned up frustration out on Mae by beating her. Johnson cannot believe that he is hitting her; he knows that hitting a

Houser 4

woman is wrong. The story ends with Johnson beating Mae and the outcome of the situation is left to the imagination.

     When a person pushes down all the torment, frustration and anger that occurs in life and allows no release, an explosion is bound to occur. A person can only carry around so much weight before they snap. Johnson is too nice of a man to show any anger. He thought by not dealing with the anger and pushing it down inside it would go away, but it exploded! As Johnson arrives home his hands are finally able to find a release.  Disgusted with the word, will Johnson force Mae to her end?

        Houser 5

Works Cited

Petry, Ann. “Like a Winding Sheet.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing.  Compact 4th ed. Eds. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell.  Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2000. 109-116.

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