, Research Paper
Anderson: “I Want to know Why”
People become human through common experiences. The thread running through this essay clearly demonstrates the power that a shared love for horses and racing overcomes racial boundaries. The introductory paragraph with its masterly structure accounts for the story’s gripping power. The narrator brings us vividly into the story as “we got up at four in the morning, that first day in the east”. He and his friends “with the true instinct of Kentucky boys had found our way across town and to the race tracks and stables at once”. The love of horses, as the narrator tells us is that “everyone in our part of Kentucky who is anyone at all, likes horses”. Certain values and conditions are highly prized in this part of Kentucky. The racing season with new colts, bloodlines, legendary horse families and trainers all share a common bond of shared love for the thoroughbreds and champions.
The narrator, a white boy, is envious of the black cook, Bildad for his closeness to the horses’ life. He states that “he is going all season to the races and working in the livery barn in the winter where horses are and where men like to come and talk horses, wish I was a nigger. It’s a foolish thing to say, but that’s the way I am about being round horses, just crazy, I can’t help it”. Young people are ambitious, regardless of color and the similarities in taste demonstrates the similarity of persons of all races.
Disappointed dreams and fantasies play an important role in the theme of shared love. As the young narrator so painfully writes “when I was ten years old and couldn’t be a rider I was so sorry I nearly died”. The black boys in contrast cannot dream of riding a winner but demonstrate their love as stable boys caring for the thoroughbreds. “I would like to be a stable boy, but had to give that up too. Mostly niggers do that work.”
On the big horse farms, when the horses are led out “you sit on a fence with men, whites and niggers, and chew tobacco and talk, and then the colts are brought out.” The picture of a shared experience of watching beautiful animals. Love and beauty can rescue ordinary lives. The narrator convinces himself that he can always pick a winner, “It’s in my blood like in the blood of race track niggers and trainers.”
The excitement of race day dawns and “then the bugle blows for post and the boys that ride come running out with their silk clothes on and you run to get a place by the fence with the niggers.” The sight of the thoroughbreds all nervous and sweaty and shiny brings a thrill to people of all races. Everyone gets caught up in the moment and ambience of the Saratoga racetrack. The narrator, like many in the crowd follows particular horses. Middlestride and Sunstreak were two particular favorites. Middlestride, the gelding is long and awkward but “goes away slow and is always way back at the half, then he begins to run and if the race is a mile and a quarter he’ll just eat up everything and get there.” In contrast the stallion Sunstreak is “hard all over and lovely to look at” and “run like a bird dog”. These horses are loved by all and “I didn’t want to see either of our horses beaten. The old men in Beckersville said and the niggers said so. It was a fact.” Here is a genuine love and respect for these fine horses, one that is valid and intense. There are a few winners and many losers along the passage of life, white and black men can perhaps identify themselves in the challenge of life’s race.
Another example of shared love is the love for Sunstreak by his trainer Jerry Tillford and the narrator. “Sunstreak was standing quiet and letting the niggers rub his legs and Mr. Van Riddle himself put the saddle on.” The horse was like a lightening rod and connected people in their admiration and expectations. “Seemed to me there wasn’t anything in the world but that man and the horses and me”, as the narrator noted. The horse Sunstreak ran a magnificent race and broke the world’s record for a mile and everyone was so proud and happy.
The respect and love for horses and racing brings people from all cultures together whether they are rich or poor. The atmosphere and excitement surrounding the Saratoga paddocks is clearly described by the narrator and the story forcefully pulls the reader into the experience.
Other examples of shared love are Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and the Dick Francis racing mysteries.