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Edgar Lee Masters' "'Butch' Weldy"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Introduction and Text of "'Butch' Weldy"

In Edgar Lee Masters' "'Butch' Weldy" from the American classic, Spoon River Anthology, the character of the man who impregnated Minerva Jones before he "got religion and steadied down" is revealed. The reader will notice that Butch makes no reference to Minerva Jones, her father—Indignation Jones, or Doctor and Mrs. Meyers. Butch's choice of narrative subject reveals him to be a rather self-indulgent individual.

"'Butch' Weldy" concludes the "Minerva" series, as Butch declaims about his ordeal following a work related accident. It is easy to understand how his own misery would tend to blot out his dealings with the ilk of Minerva, et al.

'Butch' Weldy

After I got religion and steadied down
They gave me a job in the canning works,
And every morning I had to fill
The tank in the yard with gasoline,
That fed the blow-fires in the sheds
To heat the soldering irons.
And I mounted a rickety ladder to do it,
Carrying buckets full of the stuff.
One morning, as I stood there pouring,
The air grew still and seemed to heave,
And I shot up as the tank exploded,
And down I came with both legs broken,
And my eyes burned crisp as a couple of eggs.
For someone left a blow-fire going,
And something sucked the flame in the tank.
The Circuit Judge said whoever did it
Was a fellow-servant of mine, and so
Old Rhodes’ son didn’t have to pay me.
And I sat on the witness stand as blind
As Jack the Fiddler, saying over and over,
“I didn’t know him at all.”

Reading of "'Butch' Weldy"

Commentary

Butch is declaiming about his ordeal after a work related accident—with nary a nod to Minerva. This is the final installment of this five-poem sequence.

First Movement: Shady Character

After I got religion and steadied down
They gave me a job in the canning works,
And every morning I had to fill
The tank in the yard with gasoline,
That fed the blow-fires in the sheds
To heat the soldering irons.
And I mounted a rickety ladder to do it,
Carrying buckets full of the stuff.

Presenting himself as a ne'er-do-well, Butch reports that he was able to find work after he "got religion and steadied down," exposing his character as a gad-about, who likely indulged in all manner of adolescent chicanery. This estimation of Weldy's character can be inferred from the fact that he impregnated Minerva Jones out-of-wedlock.

Likely, Butch led Minerva to believe he loved her and after carrying on with her for a time that suited his fancy, he dumped her. As Minerva said, Butch left her "to her fate with Doctor Meyers."

Butch explains his job at the canning works, how he "mounted a rickety ladder" every morning "to fill / The tank in the yard with gasoline." This fuel then fed the "blow-fires in the sheds / To heat the soldering irons."

Second Movement: An Unfortunate Event

One morning, as I stood there pouring,
The air grew still and seemed to heave,
And I shot up as the tank exploded,
And down I came with both legs broken,
And my eyes burned crisp as a couple of eggs.

Butch then states that on one work morning as he was filling the tank with gasoline that he had fetched up the ladder, he noticed that, "the air grew still and seemed to heave, / And I shot up as the tank exploded."

From this unfortunate event, Butch suffered two broken legs and his eyes "burned crisp as a couple of eggs," thus, rendering him blind.

Third Movement: Attempt to Recover Damages

For someone left a blow-fire going,
And something sucked the flame in the tank.
The Circuit Judge said whoever did it
Was a fellow-servant of mine, and so
Old Rhodes’ son didn’t have to pay me.

A fellow worker had allowed one of the fires to continue to burn. Butch explains that the air sucked the flame in the tank. Butch's narrative then lurches quickly to the trial in which the Circuit Judge said, "whoever did it / Was a fellow-servant of mine, and so / Old Rhodes' son didn't have to pay me."

Butch's attempt to recover damages from the canning works for his injuries is thwarted by the court. The court finds that because a fellow worker had been negligent and caused the accident, the owners of the canning works could not be held responsible.

Fourth Movement: A Confused Witness

And I sat on the witness stand as blind
As Jack the Fiddler, saying over and over,
“I didn’t know him at all.”

Butch protests that he didn't know [the fellow worker] at all. This response reveals a lack of understanding; the court was not saying the Butch and the perpetrator were buddies; it was saying that the canning works owners were not responsible. It would therefore seem to follow that if Butch were to sue the fellow worker, he might have a case.

Butch remarks that he sat on the witness stand, "as blind / As Jack the Fiddler," repeating his claim that he did not know the fellow employ who neglected to douse the fire in the shed.

Jack the Fiddler is an allusion to "Blind Jack," who appears later on in the Spoon River Anthology.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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