“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history” (Lincoln 537). This popular statement made by Abraham Lincoln represents a universal truth. Edgar Lee Masters’ work Spoon River Anthology strongly sticks to this idea. The collection of poems illustrates the point of view of deceased citizens contemplating about their lives in the fictional town Spoon River. Many late-citizens are fictional while some others, like William H. Herndon, Hannah Armstrong and Anne Rutledge, have clear similarities to real persons. It will be shown that Masters borrowed the concepts of these three characters from history and that Abraham Lincoln is the link between reality and fiction.
The first fictional character who shares not only a name but also the same history with a real person is William H. Herndon. The protagonist claims that he “saw a man arise from the soil” who at last becomes the “head of the republic” (Masters 291). As well as the speaker in the poem, the real William H. Herndon was able to see Lincoln’s rise from the bottom of society to presidency. The Lincoln biographer Stephen B. Oates affirms that he lived in Springfield, Illinois during the mid nineteenth century and Lincoln made the young and ambitious man his law partner in 1844 (73-74). In Masters’ work Herndon speaks very affectionate about Lincoln as “the fabled giant”, the “Master of great armies / head of the republic” (Masters 291). Considering the fact that Lincoln was nine years older than the real Herndon and his role model, it is no wonder that the poem’s protagonist also admires Lincoln (Oates 71-72). In the last two lines the protagonist laments that he is “alone” (Masters 291), as well as the real William H. Herndon must have lamented after the tragic loss of his partner because “deep down, he loved the man” (Oates 71-75). Masters merely projected what must have been the real Herndon’s feelings onto his alter ego’s epitaph. Apparently, both lives were essentially altered by Abraham Lincoln as well as both lives offer a coherent bond between reality and fiction.
Another character of Masters’ work that shows several similarities to a real person is Hannah Armstrong. In her poem the fictional Hannah reminisces about the president, discharging her “sick boy from the army”. “[She] wrote him a letter” and after she “travelled all the way to Washington”, the president eventually “wrote in his own hand Doug´s discharge” (Masters 294). A slightly different incident occurred in 1858. The factual Hannah Armstrong was not a Spoon River citizen but, as well as William H. Herndon, originally from Springfield (Oates 141). Nonetheless, in the same manner as her fictional counterpart, she begged Lincoln to help her with her son. Still, neither did Armstrong’s son serve in the army nor was he sick as it is suggested in the poem.
- Quote paper
- Kay Unbehaun (Author), 2010, Abraham Lincoln’s impact on Spoon River Anthology, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/171621