The Transformation of Harold Green in McPherson's "A Loaf of Bread"
The Analysis of Harold Green
In the short story “A Loaf of Bread” by James Alan McPherson, the protagonist Harold Green is faced with a dilemma that jeopardizes his job as a grocer and his reputation. As a grocer, Green owns various grocery stores in different locations. A few people noticed that some stores that Green owned were charging people more as opposed to the other stores that Green owned. As a result, Green faced serious backlash from the ordeal and customers began protesting and boycotting his stores. Ultimately, Green undergoes a series of changes as a person due to this event.
When the problem first arose, Green simply dismissed the case and moved on with his work. It wasn’t until the widespread protests and boycotts did Green understand the seriousness of the problem. He was simply asked by the townspeople to lower his prices and that they would not stop protesting until he did so. Green felt that he had did nothing wrong and stated many times to his wife that “I am not dishonest” (Paragraph 2). Unbeknownst Green, the protestesters have even went as far as to protest at his children’s school. Had he known about this, his overall approach to the situation might have been more direct. However, he continued with his firm demeanor and stood by his ideals. He defended his actions by stating that he “played by the rules he had learned” (Paragraph 3). He stated that his father had learned first hand how society worked and simply learned the tricks of the trade and used them to his advantage. Having seeing this, Green simply followed suite and did the same. Green even went as far as saying that if he did not do it, someone else would.
Even when his wife threatened him with divorce, Green simply stated that “[He] will not give!” (Paragraph 5). From the viewpoint of the reader, it is clear that Green is a very firm man and does not like to bend towards conformity. This implies that Green is a very firm and resolute man. As the protests went on, Green stayed true to his word and did not change the prices. He simply did not feel the need to, but due to the increased pressure of the protestors fueled by the media, Green began making more and more excuses for himself. He began to blame the media for blowing the whole ordeal out of proportion. “‘Where do they get so much power?’ Green said to his wife. ‘Two days ago, nobody would have cared.’” (Paragraph 11). He continues and goes on to state that he was simply a grocer, not a rich businessman. From this, we can see that Green does not truly understand the big picture. In his eyes, he is completely innocent. Furthermore, it does not appear that Green has not put himself in the shoes of the protestors. Green only sees one side of the story, his own. This can also suggest that Green is a somewhat close minded and conservative individual. His own character displays this very well when he asks his wife about the color of the protestors. His wife responded stating that they were black and Green followed up saying that he was only interested in the color green.
By this stage, Green began feeling the pressure of the situation. Faced with a looming divorce from his wife by the weekend, Green was dealt with two options. Either make the wrongs right by offering everything in one of his stores for free on one day or by sticking to his beliefs and remaining firm on his original decision. Even with two clear options, one obviously better than the other, Green prolongs it for as long as he can. After speaking to his brother-in-law which was a insurance salesman, Green was still not convinced. In contrast to his brother in law, Green appears to be open minded about the situation while his brother-in-law, treats it as a philosophical problem (the “brother-in-law leaning heavily on his readings”). Although both may contain the right answer, taking the more “real world” approach seems to be appropriate in this situation.
As suggested by his brother-in-law during the discussion, he decided to meet with the man who was the face of the protests: Nelson Reed. Upon meeting Reed, Green tries to defend his practices by stating that he did what he did to cover the costs of his business. Green simply wasn’t profiting as much as he would like due to the expenses and needed to cover them one way or another; hence the added expenses. Upon hearing this Reed became disgruntled and simply stated that the average person in this neighborhood can not afford the high prices. By being in a situation that was already tough for them, they did not need another problem to come up. Reed explained that ‘“All [he] is is a poor man that works too hard to see his pay slip through his fingers like rainwater.’” (Paragraph 21).
On the day of free groceries, Green went ahead and did what his wife suggested and allowed everyone to take what they wanted. It was clear that Green had considered the two options and decided to go with the one that would solve the problem. Although not his original plan, Green felt that the whole ordeal was tiresome and he simply did not want to take part in it any longer. To put into simple terms, he simply threw in the towel. As a character his once stern and firm personality had been broken down and he was able to change. However, the road to his change was a hard one and if it wasn’t for his wife threatening him with divorce, the whole situation would have been prolonged even further. To say the least, Green is somewhat inflexible but can change if he is forced to do so. All in all, Harold Green was able to undergo change due to the stress of pressure of the situation.
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