Transformation of a Father into New Man

Anjuelle D. Floyd

Edward P. Jones’ A New Man displays the transformation of a man whose daughter runs away from home and does not return.

The story opens with fifty-two-year-old Woodrow L. Cunningham arriving home early mid-afternoon, one day in late October to find his fifteen year-old daughter, Elaine, home from school and with two boys in her company. An argument ensues when Woodrow demands the boys leave and confronts Elaine as to what she was doing home and with two people of the opposite sex.

Woodrow did not consider Elaine’s defense, “They let us out early…The teachers had some kinda meeting,” because “…he [Woodrow] had found that she [Elaine] leave to lie.” p. 204 The heated discussion ends with Woodrow ordering Elaine to her room as he then lies down on the sofa where Elaine and the two boys had sat moments earlier.

Woodrow awakes at five-o-clock to Rita, his wife, “…sitting on the side of the couch,” and asking Elaine’s whereabouts. “She ain’t in her room.” p. 209

Thus begins the search for Elaine that extends to eighteen months. During the first three months after Elaine disappears, Woodrow and Rita arrive home from their respective jobs —he “…the chief engineer…number one maintenance man…at the Sheraton Park Hotel,” and Rita, “…a school cafeteria worker…” and with their church friends, the two go out searching for Elaine. Always at the end they gather in Woodrow and Rita’s living
11/17/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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Transformation of a Father into New Man
Anjuelle D. Floyd

room where the minister speaks a few words and then prays for Elaine’s safe return. pp. 203, 209.

By February the number of people joining Woodrow and Rita dwindles. In March, Woodrow pens a letter to his father stating that his father need not come to Washington to assist in finding Elaine.

Woodrow then begins going about the city, “…sometimes on foot…” looking for Elaine. To people he encounters he shows pictures of Elaine taken “…months before her disappearance.” Over time Woodrow begins showing people a picture taken of Elaine… on an Easter Sunday… [when] she was five-years-old. ” p. 213 This Easter picture becomes Woodrow’s passport into the homes and hearts of those he meets and who are touched by his loss.

Towards the end of April, 6 months after Elaine leaves, Rita removes from the kitchen wall the map they have used in searching for Elaine in Washington, DC and the surrounding areas. Rita who used to be slight and skinny, has now gained much weight, so much so that she is made cashier at the cafeteria where she works--a job she can do while sitting. Woodrow on the other hand, who for years was encouraged to lose weight for the good of his heart, has grown slim and weighs much less.

A year and a half later following Elaine’s disappearance, and again in April, Rita announces rather casually, after stating that for dinner, “…We have fish to eat and we
11/17/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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Transformation of a Father into New Man
Anjuelle D. Floyd

have to move from this place.” p. 214.

Woodrow’s father dies in the seventh year past the October Elaine ran away. Woodrow and Rita attend the funeral. Back at his father’s house and searching through a “… wooden trunk in one of the back rooms…” Woodrow discovered “…pictures of his mother…” Woodrow cries out in a most painful manner, “… as if he had been struck…” p. 215

Woodrow later uncovers letters written to his father, during Woodrow’s early adulthood and when working in various places such “…camps…” and the “…railway years.” Woodrow burns all the letters and returns to Washington, D.C. with Rita and some of the pictures of his mother.

Back at their new place of residence, an apartment on Independence and Southeast— seven years and approaching 8, since Elaine’s disappearance—Woodrow strikes out once more in search of Elaine. He has with him the photographs of Elaine at ages 5 years and 15 years. But it is the picture of Elaine on Easter Sunday and at 5 years that he considers showing to any of the residents of homes on 15th Street should they answer his knock.

Woodrow L. Cunningham is made into a new man not simply as a result of the loss of his daughter, but by how people receive him in his hurt. People he encounters do not ask what made Elaine run away, rather they connect with his pain, and his sadness in having lost a person, but most likely never expressed to her.
11/17/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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Transformation of a Father into New Man
Anjuelle D. Floyd

Then again, Woodrow’s father it would seem never actually stated his feelings about Woodrow in a frank manner. And yet we see Woodrow penning letters to his father, whose abilities at reading and writing, forms through which one can express their feelings, and thoughts that comprise our identity, far exceeded that of Woodrow’s and his brothers. Woodrow’s father was an excellent reader and writer. Woodrow though, better than his brothers, never approached his father’s talent in those capabilities. The loss of Woodrow’s father opens a gash in Woodrow not only of the loss of his one and only child, Elaine, but also that of his mother, about whom little is said in the story. The transformation Woodrow undergoes is of a man, hardened by time and circumstance, and then kneaded and malleated by life’s tragic losses that include two of the three most important women in his life—that of his daughter and mother. As time continues and due to Woodrow’s nightly travels about the city in search of anyone who will hear his story and welcome him into their home, he too loses Rita suffering in her own way. The disappearance of Woodrow L. Cunningham’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Elaine, brings Woodrow into the full, but sad blooming of the divine feminine within him. The experiences that transpire in the wake of Elaine’s disappearance extend seven years in to the future when Woodrow, having found pictures of his mother, cries out in pain.

Symbolic of a forgotten place in himself, but yet awakened by the absence of his
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Transformation of a Father into New Man
Anjuelle D. Floyd

daughter, the pictures touch upon what words cannot express, and Woodrow having not penned, displays each time he encounters someone, and while telling of his loss shows the picture of Elaine on Easter Sunday at 5-years-old.

11/17/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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