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Courage In John Sayles’ Matewan And The Matewan Massacre

2280 words - 9 pages

Aristotle defined courage as “[fearlessness] in face of a noble death, and of all emergencies that involve death.” Mark Twain defined courage as “the mastery of fear, not the absence of it.” Both definitions stress the ability of an individual to overcome fear and to persevere through frightening and harrowing circumstances. While courage is generally viewed on an individual level, it can be applied to a group or the individual’s place within the collective group. Collectivism is any political, social, or economic system that places the group before the individual and stresses the importance of making decisions that benefit all people. In a collectivist system, power should be in the hands of the group and not the individuals with power. In conflict, “individuals [should] be willing to sacrifice personal interests for those of the group.” In John Sayles’ Matewan and the historical Matewan massacre, courage is seen in the sacrifices and risks taken by the coal miners and their supporters, while collectivism is seen in the way the Joe Kenehan figure led the group of coal miners and in the stereotypes placed on the groups of people.
The characters in John Sayles' Matewan exemplified courage when they stood up to the company and made personal sacrifices for the union. Few Clothes asks the men of the company what keeps the company from "jacking up the prices" on the goods that the miners were required to buy from the company. When Few Clothes asked this question, he challenged the authority of the Stone Mountain Coal Company, which was a dangerous thing to do and made himself a threat to the company. Joe Kenehan left the safety of his region to build up a union in the southern area of West Virginia. He soon became a threat to the Baldwin-Felts agents and the company because he was a union man. Sid Hatfield and Mayor Testerman displayed courage when they challenge the Baldwin’s eviction notice of a miner's home by claiming that the notice was not a legal document. Despite the guns carried by the Baldwin-Felt’s agents, Sid demanded that they put the family's possessions back into their house until a legal document was presented. Sid, “whose hatred of the mine bosses and their hired bully-boys,” and Mayor Testerman also confronted the agents as they prepared to leave town at the end of the movie and stood to fight when shooting began. Collectively, the union workers threw down their shovels and agreed with Kenehan when he exclaimed “Stone Mountain [do not] move one piece of coal, unless it’s a union man who moves it.” They could have easily been shot by the company’s gun thugs, but the miners “were prepared to die rather than betray their union.” Even when the miners lost their homes and were forced to live in tent cities, the miners and their supporters remained courageous. According to Fishbein, Bridey May and Elma “[continued] to support unionization, even at the risk of their own livelihood.” The company owned Elma’s bread and...

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