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Edgar Lee Masters' "Ida Chicken"

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

Edgar Lee Masters

Edgar Lee Masters

Introduction and Text of "Ida Chicken"

From Edgar Lee Masters' American classic, Spoon River Anthology, "Ida Chicken" considering herself an intellectual, deems herself above the ordinary citizens of Spoon River. She sounds like the typical modern statist, denigrating the U.S. Constitution, complaining that she could not "defend or support it at all!"—and then belly-aching that she had to take an oath to secure a passport to France. One might hope that Ida remained in France for her own peace of mind, if not for sake of equanimity in her native nation.

Ida Chicken

After I had attended lectures
At our Chautauqua, and studied French
For twenty years, committing the grammar
Almost by heart,
I thought I’d take a trip to Paris
To give my culture a final polish.
So I went to Peoria for a passport—
(Thomas Rhodes was on the train that morning.)
And there the clerk of the district Court
Made me swear to support and defend
The constitution—yes, even me—
Who couldn’t defend or support it at all!
And what do you think? That very morning
The Federal Judge, in the very next room
To the room where I took the oath,
Decided the constitution
Exempted Rhodes from paying taxes
For the water works of Spoon River!

Reading of "Ida Chicken"

Commentary

Ida Chicken wants to travel to Paris to put polish on her language skills in French.

First Movement: A Smart Chicken

After I had attended lectures
At our Chautauqua, and studied French
For twenty years, committing the grammar
Almost by heart,
I thought I’d take a trip to Paris
To give my culture a final polish.

Note of historical interest: "At our Chautauqua" alludes to the lecture circuit of traveling shows that become very popular in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to lectures, it staged plays, presented concerts, and other entertainment, all modeled on the events that originated at the Chautauqua Institution New York.

Ida Chicken, by touting an interest in "lectures" and studying French, is self-identifying as an intellectual. It would be natural that such an individual would desire to travel to France to improve language skills and as Ida puts it "give my culture a final polish."

Second Movement: To Secure a Passport in Peoria

So I went to Peoria for a passport—
(Thomas Rhodes was on the train that morning.)
And there the clerk of the district Court
Made me swear to support and defend
The constitution—yes, even me—
Who couldn’t defend or support it at all!

Read More From Owlcation

Ida then travels to Peoria to fetch a passport and reports that Thomas Rhodes happened to be traveling on the same train as Ida that day. Ida then complains that in order to get the passport, she had to swear allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, vowing to "support and defend it."

Ida is offended to have to swear such support for a constitution that she obviously feels she could not support and defend "at all!" But to provide Ida with the passport, the clerk of the district court required her to swear to that support and defense.

Third Movement: In a Huff Over Thomas Rhodes' Tax Exemption

And what do you think? That very morning
The Federal Judge, in the very next room
To the room where I took the oath,
Decided the constitution
Exempted Rhodes from paying taxes
For the water works of Spoon River!

Ida then offers an example of her reasoning for remaining a skeptical citizen, who has no compunction about denigrating the nation's governing document. As Ida was securing her passport, the businessman Thomas Rhodes was securing from a federal judge an exemption from paying taxes to support the "water works of Spoon River."

Taking that oath thus grated on the nerves of the intellectual Ida, as she became aware of Thomas Rhodes' tax exemption. As so many of the complaining residents continue to do, Ida offers no clear insight into why Rhodes was able to secure that exemption; she just assumes the worst corruption and then blames the U.S. Constitution, seemingly unaware that the interpretation of the document is where the blame for corruption lies.

Commemorative Stamp

Commemorative Stamp

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.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 13, 2018:

Yes, Louise. Spoon River offers some fascinating reading. Masters' classic work always delivers a useful and entertaining study of character.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on September 13, 2018:

I've read a few of your articles about Edgar Lee Masters poetry. I really do like his poems.

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