March 10, 1999
Pressure from the Women
In “Like a Winding Sheet” Anne Petry chooses not to fully develop the female
characters of the story but still used them as a major part of the story to bring on the
climax. Petry chose to do this by using each woman’s appearance and in some cases their
rank in society to bring out the violent doings of Johnson.
Petry first used Johnson’s boss as a crisis in the plot. Johnson was described as a
man in pain and being tired which is assumed by the reader was from working the long
hours at work. After repeatedly being late to work his boss finally scolds him for arriving
so late, making her the first lady to start the conflict in the story. By Johnson’s boss
yelling at him he becomes angered as thoughts of striking his white, female boss enter his
mind. The only things that keeps Johnson from hitting the boss was that it was extremely
immoral to hit a woman, and the fact that she is a superior to him as his boss.
The second woman in the story to create a complication in the story was the next
young white girl who is working at the coffee shop. On his way home from work Johnson
stopped at the coffee shop for the obvious cup of coffee. Johnson had waited in line for
quite a while for the cup of coffee but when he finally got to the front for his coffee, the
young white girl said that they were out of coffee. When she told Johnson this he didn’t
think that she did it in a polite manner at all. Johnson thought that he deserved more
respect due to him being an elder to the girl, he felt that the girl didn’t show this respect.
Once again Johnson had thoughts of striking the young girl but for morality reasons, he
The final woman was the one that pushed the story to its’ climax. Johnson
returned home a very tired and aggravated man from working and the disrespectful
women through out the day. This woman happened to be his wife Mae, waiting for
Johnson at home. Mae verbally abused him similarly to what his boss had done. His wife
told him that he was being a “tough old nigger,” and continued with similar statements.
Although her meaning of the term wasn’t as serious as the bosses was, it still added to
Once again the thoughts of raising a hand and striking the woman passed through
his mind. This time Johnson couldn’t refrain from striking his “abuser.” Although the
person was again a woman, the pressure on the man had been too much, and he released
all of his pressure. All the women throughout the day contributed to the pressure that the
man had building inside which finally became too much for Johnson to contain.