Agee was born on November 11, 1909. He died on May 16th, 1955 from a heart attack in the backseat of a New York City taxi on his way to the doctor’s office. Ironically, he died the same month and day that his father was born on.
He wrote “Let us now praise famous men” in 1946. It only sold 600 copies at the time but was later recognized as an American classic. In 1952, he, along with actor-director John Huston, received an Oscar for their screen play of “The African Queen.” He posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “A Death in the Family” in 1957.
There are many interesting facets connected with Agee’s short story. It is written as a parable, myth and a narrative in fictional prose explaining how deceptive life can really be. It’s a powerful, mystical, emotional story about a legendary heroic cow. It should be compulsory literature for every high school student.
The story begins under the shade of a Sycamore tree on the edge of a peaceful green pasture. Except for a few calf’s gathered around their mothers, the majority of the herd were contently grazing on the lush grass of paradise. The sound of large trucks broke the silence of contentment. The steers were brought to gates at the edge of the pasture, herded into trucks and hauled away to meet their destiny. Within hours, the pasture was almost empty. Only the frightened calf’s huddled around their mothers under the stand of Sycamores were left.
The calf’s started to ask questions. “where is the herd going; why are they leaving home, will they have to leave home when they grow up, what happens to them when they do leave and will they ever come back home?” The same questions we ask about our lives and the unknown hereafter. Then the mother began her tale.
One steer did come back from the journey. As he was dying at the edge of the pasture, he told us his painful and sorrowful story. He told everyone how we were all fooled. There is no Paradise or hereafter and no one will ever return home to their family.
He described how they were all squeezed into freight trucks with no room to lay down and traveled for hours without food or water. They stood in their own waste and the stench was sickening. Everyone called for help, but no one listened to their cries. Humans passed them on the road and smiled at them as if they knew where they were headed, but didn’t offer to help them.
After what seemed like an eternity, the steers were unloaded into a huge yard in the middle of a big city. Fed with all the food they could eat, everyone thought they were going to a larger, greener pasture in Paradise.
One afternoon, the herd formed a line that moved slowly towards one of the big buildings in the middle of the yard. There was a strange odor coming from the building causing an unrest in the front of the line. They thought is was the smell of the humans. As they inched closer to the building they realized it was the smell of their own flesh, blood and death. The humans were slaughtering, butchering and eating us.
As he came closer to the front of the line he could see a man place a belly band around a steer. He hit the helpless soul in the head with a hammer; leaving a large gap between his eyes. Almost immediately, they hung the half living body on hooks placed through the tendons of his legs. Peeling his hide, they collected the blood of memories from the green pastures of home for human consumption.
With his last ounce of strength, our Savior of truth somehow charged out of the line. Yelling a warning to the rest of the herd, he caused a commotion and escaped through one of the broken fences. Miraculously, he painfully made his way back, told us his story and laid down and died in our green pastures he called home.
Agee would have us ask why would he walk through the shadow of death; sacrifice his life and blood to save us from our own fate only to die in our green pastures?” I will leave that subjective answer for you to contemplate for yourself.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.