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The Not-So-Honest Man in The Fifty-Dollar Bill

The Not-So-Honest Man in The Fifty-Dollar Bill

The main character in Donald Hall’s “The Fifty-Dollar Bill” has spent most of his life trying to live up to his honest reputation. When he is accused of trying to bribe a person at the Judge Advocate General’s office, he tries to convince himself and everyone else that it was just an “unfortunate coincidence” (Hall 958). However, the evidence shows that it was more than just a coincidence and that his actions were intentional.

The narrator goes out of his way to prove to us that he is a honest man. He contrasts himself with other lawyers who “live on intimate terms with dishonesty” (Hall 957). While he prides himself on being honest, the narrator has a deep obsession with his honesty; it seems he will do anything to live up to his reputation. In the first paragraph, he says “I call myself an honest man,” not I am an honest man. By his choice of words he demonstrates a lack of confidence in his honesty. You don’t have to be truly honest, in order to call yourself honest.

The narrator begins defending his actions long before we know that he did anything wrong. In the second paragraph, he claims “I had no intention of avoiding service to my country and I expected . . . to go into the office of the judge advocate general in June, 1942” (Hall 957). By telling us this early on he gets us on his side. We now are more likely to believe that he would never try to bribe his way out of being drafted. He also makes sure that we know he was in a hurry when he mailed the letter, which makes a mix-up seem more possible. By setting up his defense so early he shows that he has a real need to be defended.

Once we know what he did wrong, his defense begins to look like Swiss cheese; it has a lot of holes in it. He and his wife used the $500.00, that they received as a wedding present, during the summer of 1941. They stopped using the money “When school started in the fall,” probably close to the beginning of September (Hall 958). It’s hard to believe that in four months a man who had been in college and law school for six years, would actually forget about an envelope that he had used at least nine times over the previous summer—much less an envelope that had money in it.

Success and Failure in Alice Walker’s To Hell With Dying

Success and Failure in Alice Walker’s “To Hell With Dying”

Alice Walker’s “To Hell With Dying” appears on the surface to be a story of a man who has many near-death experiences. However, I believe that the story of Mr. Sweet shows the side of depression and failure that Alice Walker might have faced had she not pushed her way to success.

Mr. Sweet grew up in a time period where the life between whites and blacks was very segregated. However, Mr. Sweet “had been ambitious as a boy, wanted to be a doctor or lawyer or sailor, only to find that black men fare better if they [were] not” (Walker 1143). When he realized this defeat “he turned to fishing as his only claim to doing anything extraordinarily well” (1143). This failure seemed to overcome Mr. Sweet as he turned to the bottle as a sort of sanctuary. Mr. Sweet “was constantly on the verge of being blind drunk” (1144); however, to the kids this made him the perfect playmate. Often when Mr. Sweet was “feeling good” (1144), he would dance about and play in the yard with the children. When he was in this state he was just as vulnerable as they were. In fact, most of the time the children won the battles.

An ironic behavior that Mr. Sweet has in this story, however, is that we read about him playing with the neighbors’ children, but we never read about him playing with his own child. Maybe this is because of the second failure that occurred in Mr. Sweet’s life. When he was younger he had to marry Miss Mary, for she was pregnant with his child; “he was not sure that Joe Lee, [Miss Mary’s] baby, was also his baby” (1144). Mr. Sweet had been in love with another woman though. He had made up a song that he played on his guitar on this unhappy part of his life. When Mr. Sw…

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…, was another Mr. Sweet. However, this Mr. Sweet took her route of success. He expressed his pain through the poetry he wrote so that whoever wanted to could read it and feel the pain that he had to overcome.

Mr. Sweet, by showing Alice Walker what would happen to her if she surrendered to the racism of the outside world, helped her achieve success.

Works Cited

Walker, Alice. “To Hell With Dying.” The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 1143-1147.

Walker, Alice. “Remembering Mr. Sweet.” The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 1147-1149.

Works Consulted

Harrison, Faye. “Writing Against The Grain: Cultural Politics Of Difference In The Work Of Alice Walker.” Women Writing Culture. Ed. R. Behar and D.A Gordon. University of California Press, 1195. 233-245.

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