22. Edgar Lee Masters’ "'Indignation' Jones"
Edgar Lee Masters
Spoon River Anthology
This publication includes all the epitaphs of Edgar Lee Masters' American classic.
Introduction: The Arrogance of Blame
Edgar Lee Masters’ “‘Indignation’ Jones” from Spoon River Anthology gives voice to the father of "Minerva Jones," the village "poetess." This father and daughter share two common character flaws: their arrogance of a mightily, unearned self-worth and their vice of laying the blame for their own erroneous behavior on others.
“Indignation” Jones' blast of a full throated denouncement of Spoon River society rings as hollow as Minerva's, even if it is, perhaps, louder.
First Movement: “You would not believe, would you”
"Indignation" Jones was apparently so bombastic as to carry the moniker “Indignation.” Clearly, he deems himself superior to the other Spoon River residents as he claims in question form, “You would not believe, would you, / That I came from good Welsh stock? / That I was purer blooded than the white trash here?”
Additionally, he pronounces himself and his stock “of more direct lineage than the New Englanders / And Virginians of Spoon River.” Jones is unlike the riffraff of the town; he asserts that his bloodline is untainted by southern Europeans or other races.
Second Movement: “You would not believe that I had been to school”
Jones then states that he has “been to school / And read some books,” as had his poetess daughter. But Jones is taunting the town by accusing it of not believing that he had such erudition.
Jones accuses the town of judging him by his outward appearance; all they saw was, “a run-down man, / With matted hair and beard / And ragged clothes.” Apparently, no one ever engaged in conversation with Jones, if his report can be given credence.
Third Movement: “Sometimes a man’s life turns into a cancer”
Philosophically, Jones surmises that sometimes men’s lives “turn[ ] into a cancer.” Sometimes men’s lives are “bruised and continually bruised.” Then those lives “swell[ ] into a purplish mass, / Like growth on stalks of corn.”
Likening his life to a swollen, purplish mass on a corn stalk reveals Indignation’s own penchant for poetry. And clearly it unmasks his own self-pity that along with the poetry he has passed on to his daughter, the village poetess.
Fourth Movement: “Here was I, a carpenter, mired in a bog of life”
The irony of his situation is enhanced as he reveals that he had been “a carpenter.” But he has nothing more to say about his profession and moves quickly on to asserting his desperation at being “mired in a bog of life.” He had innocently entered this bog “thinking it was a meadow.”
But his wife turned out to be “a slattern,” and his “poor Minerva” was “tormented and [driven] to death” by this unfeeling town. He offers nothing to support any down turn of luck: was he a successful carpenter? why did he marry a slattern in the first place? was he aware that Minerva underwent an abortion, which, in fact, caused her death?
Fifth Movement: “So I crept, crept, like a snail through the days”
Living depressed and dejected in this “bog of life,” Jones moved “like a snail” through his days. But now he can announce that the riffraff can no longer hear his “footsteps in the morning” as he makes his way “to the grocery store for a little corn meal / And a nickel’s worth of bacon.” Consumed by an arrogant self-pity, he does not realize the hollowness of his protestations of poverty.
Reading of Masters' "'Indignation' Jones"
The "Minerva Jones" sequence:
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes