What is there about barbed wire that makes it so interesting to writers from Steinbeck to Evenson, from Davis to Proulx?
That's the question Lyn and I are pursuing this week as we write a conference paper for the American Literature Association conference in Boston later this month.
Photo from a couple of months ago, just down the hill from our house in Woodland Hills. Quotation from The Grapes of Wrath:
“I says to myself, ‘What’s gnawin’ you? Is it the screwin’?’ An’ I says, ‘No, it’s the sin.’ An’ I says, ‘Why is it that when a fella ought to be just about mule-ass proof against sin, an’ all full up of Jesus, why is it that’s the time a fella gets fingerin’ his pants buttons?’” He laid two fingers down in his palm in rhythm, as though he gently placed each word there side by side. “I says, ‘Maybe it ain’t a sin. Maybe it’s just the way folks is. Maybe we been whippin’ the hell out of ourselves for nothin’.’ An’ I thought how some sisters took to beatin’ theirselves with a three-foot shag of bobwire. An’ I thought how maybe they liked to hurt themselves, an’ maybe I liked to hurt myself.”
The fact that barbed wire is dangerous is exactly what makes it useful, useful even and especially for people who want to hurt themselves and others.
The serene beauty of the photo is enhanced, or rather exacerbated, by the fact of the pointed barbs.