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“Frankie’s Got a Gun”

The ballad “Frankie and Johnny” is a song that was written to shock the listener and deliver an important message. It is the story of a woman who discovers that her husband has cheated on her and takes it upon herself to see that justice is served by shooting him. This song reflects the time period in which it was written, a time when many African American men were leaving their wives or cheating on them. Most importantly, “Frankie and Johnny” is a song written to show that sometimes people make bad choices with an understanding that they must live with the consequences and be put to justice.

In the beginning of the song, the first lines indicate how much Frankie and Johnny truly loved each other and “swore to be true to each other,” however, the end of the first paragraph reveals that something has happened in which Johnny has messed up when it says that, “He was her man, but he done her wrong.” As the song continues, the second paragraph talks about how Frankie has gone to a bar and asks the bartender where her “lovin” Johnny is. She says, “He is my man, but he’s doing me wrong.” This line reveals that although she loves him, she knows he’s been cheating on her and deserves punishment. In paragraph three, the bartender regretfully tells Frankie that Johnny has been making love to another woman, and the last line reveals that he understands that she has a right to know what has been going on: “He is your man, but he’s doing you wrong.” At this point it is clear that even the bartender believes Johnny must face the consequences of his actions.

The story reaches it’s climax in paragraphs four and five when Frankie finds Johnnie in a hotel room with the other woman. This is a very tense moment when listeners question what will happen next. Then, instead of resorting to some less violent action, Frankie shoots him. Obviously this was the only way she felt he could be brought to justice. Paragraph six shows Johnnie’s reaction to being caught cheating and then shot. First he acknowledges the pain saying, “the bullets hurt me so,” and then he acknowledges that he got what he deserved saying, “I was your man, but I done you wrong.” His reaction shows that he is not angry at Frankie for shooting him. He knows what he has done is wrong and he must face the consequences. Paragraph seven tells what will happen to Johnny now. The lines reveal that, “They’re carrying poor Johnny to the burying ground,” and ends with the cause of it all- “He was her man, but he done her wrong.”

The last two paragraphs reveal Frankie’s consequence for shooting Johnny and her reaction to her punishment. She asks the sheriff who arrests her what is going to happen to her and he says she will get the “lectric chair.” However, he also sympathizes with her saying, “He was your man, and he done you wrong.” In this moment, it is as if he is telling her that legally what she has done is wrong and she will be punished, but he personally understands why she did it. This leads to the final paragraph, in which Frankie reveals how she feels about killing her husband. She begins saying, “Put me in the dungeon,” and goes on to say things which reveal she has no remorse for killing Johnny. She accepts her fate in prison, almost welcoming it, and the final line simply confirms that she does not regret what she has done.”I shot my man, ’cause he done me wrong.” To her, it is as simple as that. He cheated so he had to face the consequence- death.

It is apparent that throughout the song, the writer shows how sometimes people make bad choices, already knowing that they will have to deal with the consequences. First, it is Johnny who chooses to cheat on Frankie, and his punishment is death. When he says, “I was your man, but I done you wrong,” he is actually admitting that he deserved to be shot. Because Frankie shot Johnny, she too has to face the consequences of her actions, but obviously she is not too upset with her fate. She did what she felt she had to do, knowing she would have to be put to justice for her actions. And despite that what she did was wrong morally and punishable by law, even the sheriff had to admit that what Johnny had done was also wrong and the punishment he received was somewhat deserved.

“Lady Day’s Solitude”

During the years from 1890-1920, many African Americans had moved north to get jobs in the period called “The Great Migration,” and unfortunately for many African American women, their husbands would leave for work and never return. The song “Solitude” sung by Billie Holiday along with the Eddie Heywood Orchestra not only represents the heartache of the many African American women who lost their husbands, but it also represents the life of solitude Billie Holiday lived, and that is what makes it such a powerful and meaningful song.

The first line of the song reads, “In my solitude you haunt me with memories of days gone by, you taunt me with memories that never die.” Clearly this refers to the loss of a lover and the pain of missing them, but there is a deeper meaning of solitude within the song that one can hear in the voice of Billie Holiday. The real emotion she expresses through the song comes from her own life that began on April 7, 1915. Billie’s parents were only teenagers when she was born and they never married, so immediately she entered into a dysfunctional family. Her childhood was not filled with an adequate amount of love and affection from her mother, and she was sent to live with uncaring relatives as a child. Because she didn’t receive love and support from her family, Billie learned quickly that she would have to deal with her solitude.

Unfortunately, her solitude would not end at childhood. At the age of ten she admitted being raped and was sent to a Catholic Reform school. She was supposed to stay there until she was an adult, but a family member helped her get released after two years. As she grew older, she then became a prostitute to make money, so the sexual mistreatment of her body continued. Obviously, such sad life events like these affected Billie emotionally. Inside she was crying out with pain just like the sound of the trumpet in the song.

Fortunately for Billie, she was finally discovered for her beautiful voice and rescued from her life of poverty, however, it could not rescue her from her solitude. As her singing career developed, she sustained a chaotic life that included a series of abusive relationships that ended soon after they began, substance addictions, and periods of depression. Many of her songs such as “Solitude” were melancholy and reflected her true emotions and what she was going through with her own life. For listeners this only added to the beauty of them. Another line of the song reads, “I sit in a chair in despair, gloom everywhere, I sit and stair. I’ll soon go mad.” Such a line has a direct connection with the pain of Billie’s life that eventually led her to drug addiction and would be the cause of her death of heart and liver disease in 1959.

After listening to the song “Solitude” then examining the life of Billie Holiday, it is clear that the hardships she faced in life such as the lack of love and support from her family, the sexual mistreatment of her body, the failed relationships, and finally the drug addictions, provided Lady Day with a truly sad tone to incorporate into her music. In “Solitude,” she is not only speaking about the solitude of a woman who has lost her man. She is also sharing the pain of the solitude she experienced throughout her own life.

“Being White Doesn’t Make It Right”

The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees all citizens the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but only a few decades ago many of its citizens were living lives without these rights simply because they were black. Langston Hughes’s poem “Ballad of the Landlord” is a strong representation of the corrupt nature of the American justice system during the time period after Reconstruction. Most importantly, the poem was written to expose the unjust view society held at the time- that whites were always considered right and blacks were to blame.

The first two stanzas of the poem begin by telling the story of a tenant who is asking his landlord to make repairs on his home, and they prove that the tenant is a kind and peaceful man who is undeserving of the cruel punishment that lies in his future. In the first stanza the tenant simply reminds the landlord that his roof needs to be fixed. Then in the second stanza, he talks to the landlord about the broken down steps. He says, “When you come up yourself it’s a wonder you don’t fall down,” and this is an attempt to gain sympathy from him. Throughout the overall beginning of the poem, the tenant has a nice tone, not angry or violent in any way. He is simply asking very nicely that the landlord make the repairs, that his rights be respected, but unfortunately that is not going to happen.

As the story progresses, the landlord disregards the tenant’s plea for repairs and selfishly asks for the rent money he is due, proving that he, in reality, is the “bad person” in the situation. Unfortunately, when the tenant decides to stand up for his rights and refuses to pay until repairs have been made, problems begin to arise. As a tenant, he should have a right to voice his problems to the landlord and have them listened to, but instead he is trapped in a no-win situation. When he tells the landlord he will not pay the rent, the landlord gets angry and then threatens him with eviction, turning off the heat, and throwing his furniture into the street. This makes the tenant angry and he responds to this with a threat of his own- “You ain’t gonna be able to say a word if I land my fist on you.” This one sentence allows the tenant to become the victim, and leads to the enactment of the corrupt American justice system.

The landlord calls for the police and claims to be the victim in the situation with the tenant, and without any questioning the tenant is arrested. This is representative of the white society who was always placing the blame on the black individual. The officer does not want to hear the other man’s side of the story, he just assumes the landlord is right. From there, the tenant is placed behind bars and a newspaper advertises the one-sided story they call the “truth”- that a tenant threatened his landlord, held no bail, and the “Judge gives the negro 90 days in county jail.” This last line of the poem is what reveals that the tenant is black, and it speaks loudest of all because it reveals why the man was treated unfairly by his landlord and why he was sent to jail. According to the current justice system, because he was black, he was to blame.

It is sad that the American justice system denied African Americans their rights as citizens and gave them no hope of protection in a country that was always wrongfully accusing them as predators. If anything could have saved them from unfair blame it could have been the justice system, but unfortunately it too was unjust like most of the country during that time. The case of the black tenant and the white landlord represents how unfair the justice system was. When the tenant had problems with his landlord, he knew he had no one to turn to to protect his rights. Then, when he spoke up for his rights and defended himself, the white landlord knew he had the upper hand and could threaten him however he wished. Lastly, when the black man finally returned the threat to his landlord, it was all over. The white man suddenly took his opportunity to play the victim, and the American justice system took its toll.

“We Are All Americans”

In today’s world it is hard to imagine a time when African Americans were not welcome to sit at the same table with whites, but such a period existed only a few decades ago. Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too” speaks of this injustice and gives a voice to the African American people as they struggled with their unequal treatment as United States citizens. In the poem, Hughes is telling African Americans that if they look positively on their current situation and wait patiently, then they will reach equality some day soon.

Hughes first begins the poem by giving an example of the positive way African Americans can react to their current mistreatment. He states, “I am the dark brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes.” Clearly this is an example of whites treating their black brothers as inferior. By sending them away from the table, they are telling them that they are ashamed of them and do not want them to be seen. African Americans could easily choose to hate white people for this treatment and feel completely hurt by the way they have been set aside, but Hughes provides them with another option. He says, “But I laugh, and eat well, and grow strong.” This shows that instead of sulking in his mistreatment, he has chosen to see the positive side of the situation. He is laughing at the situation because he realizes that whites, who may think they are pushing the black race down, are actually helping them grow stronger. By forcing them to eat in the kitchen, they are giving them the opportunity to fight harder for equality, to persevere, and to one day receive their spot at the dinner table.

African Americans like Hughes who thought positively about the future anticipated a day when both whites and blacks would sit at the dinner table together, and in his second stanza, he proceeds to encourage black people that that day will come. He says, “I’ll be at the table when company comes. Nobody’ll dare say to me, ‘Eat in the kitchen,’ Then.” This stanza gives hope to the African American community and shows them that if they are patient and continue to grow stronger while they serve their time in the kitchen, then one day they will prevail and be accepted as equals.

Not only does Hughes give African Americans hope that they will one day be equals, but he also tells them that one day their white brothers will see how beautiful and unique they are and they will be ashamed of the way they treated them in the past. The third stanza states, “Besides. They’ll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed–” These words are very powerful because they tell African Americans that they are special and beautiful as a culture, and that one day their white brothers will love them for their differences and respect them as equals. Also, when that time comes, it will be the white people suffering for what they have done in the past, while the African Americans are free to live lives free of guilt.

In the poem “I, Too,” Langston Hughes provides African Americans with compassion for their current situation, confidence that they will prevail, and reassurance that one day they will be treated as equals by their white brothers who will then feel sorry for the their actions. Each of these elements provides them with a positive message of encouragement saying that if the black race can look at their current situation positively and realize that they too are Americans despite their treatment, then one day their white brothers will see them as equals, and understand that we are all a part of the same American family.

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