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Edgar Lee Masters' "Daisy Fraser"

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 "Daisy Fraser"

The character "Daisy Fraser" from Edgar Lee Masters’ American classic, Spoon River Anthology, is reporting on the immoral and illegal acts of her fellow Spoon River citizens solely for the purpose of rehabilitating her own reputation for villainy. Her scheme is to employ gossipy questions to unleash her venom.

Daisy Fraser

Did you ever hear of Editor Whedon
Giving to the public treasury any of the money he received
For supporting candidates for office?
Or for writing up the canning factory
To get people to invest?
Or for suppressing the facts about the bank,
When it was rotten and ready to break?
Did you ever hear of the Circuit Judge
Helping anyone except the "Q" railroad,
Or the bankers? Or did Rev. Peet or Rev. Sibley
Give any part of their salary, earned by keeping still,
Or speaking out as the leaders wished them to do,
To the building of the water works?
But I—Daisy Fraser who always passed
Along the streets through rows of nods and smiles,
And coughs and words such as "there she goes,"
Never was taken before Justice Arnett
Without contributing ten dollars and costs
To the school fund of Spoon River!

Reading of Masters' "Daisy Fraser"

Commentary

Daisy Fraser's nasty character comes to light as she trashes the reputations of other residents of Spoon River. Not an unusual stance for these mostly despicable characters to take.

First Movement: Political Improprieties

Did you ever hear of Editor Whedon
Giving to the public treasury any of the money he received
For supporting candidates for office?

The speaker begins with a question that implicates "Editor Whedon" in political improprieties, that is, taking money for "supporting candidates for office." But the speaker wants to know if the editor ever gave that money to the "public treasury."

Of course, her rhetorical question is implying that he, in fact, did not. And she continues her questioning filled with further implications of political shenanigans. The fact that she is choosing easy targets should alert the reader early on regarding what is happening in Daisy’s mind.

Second Movement: Kickbacks

Or for writing up the canning factory
To get people to invest?
Or for suppressing the facts about the bank,
When it was rotten and ready to break?

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In the second movement, Daisy continues her rhetorical queries, wondering if the illegal funds from the canning factory were given to the public treasury. Again, she is suggesting that the money was used by the editor for lining his own pocket. The editor also received kickbacks for hiding the financial condition of the bank, when it was on the verge of folding.

The editor of the newspaper should have been revealing these unsavory facts about these institutions, but instead he took money and kept quiet, if the reader believes as Daisy does. Daisy wants to demonstrate, of course, that she is decrying that fact that freedom of the press can be abused.

Third Movement: A Judge on the Take

Did you ever hear of the Circuit Judge
Helping anyone except the "Q" railroad,
Or the bankers? Or did Rev. Peet or Rev. Sibley
Give any part of their salary, earned by keeping still,
Or speaking out as the leaders wished them to do,
To the building of the water works?

The third movement contains two movements that are blended. The first part features the rhetorical question, "Did you ever hear of the Circuit Judge / Helping anyone except the "Q" railroad, / Or the bankers?" Daisy now focuses on a judicial officer who blinks when influential parties commit illegal acts.

The accusation again includes the implication that like the editor, the judge is also on the take. But then she immediately focuses on the religious establishment by again questioning whether the reverends Peet and Sibley had ever contributed to the public works, that is, "water works," any of the money they received by keeping quiet about the graft. Not only was the press corrupt but the legal and religious institutions were rife with corruption as well, and of course with a press acquiescing the face of that corruption, the corruption is likely not only to continue but to spread.

Fourth Movement: Unreliable Witness

But I—Daisy Fraser who always passed
Along the streets through rows of nods and smiles,
And coughs and words such as "there she goes,"
Never was taken before Justice Arnett
Without contributing ten dollars and costs
To the school fund of Spoon River!

In the final movement, all of Daisy’s implied accusations take a tumble. When Daisy Fraser appeared before Justice Arnett, she always had to pay up, "contributing ten dollars and costs / To the school fund of Spoon River!"

Daisy reveals, if only by implication, her own misdeeds. She bristled under the "nods and smiles" and "coughs and words such as 'there she goes." She would observe people's reaction to her as she walk down the streets, and she keenly resented them for those responses. So she attempts to make herself seem better by blacking the reputations of others; therefore, whether all of that graft took place or not, the reader does not know, because Daisy has proven herself an unreliable witness.

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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.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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