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The six-year-old John Henry serves as a precise foil for Frankie. Where she is hysterical and off the wall, he is calm and collected. Where she is not rational, he is even-minded. Most of all, where she is a young soul attempting to grow up, he is an old, wise soul who is very much a child. Frankie uses John Henry as something of a soundboard onto whom she can project her fears and insecurities. Furthermore, she attempts to pass her childhood onto him, in some respects. When she gives him the doll she says she does not want, she is taking a representational step to distance herself from her childhood years. John Henry is safely half her age, so there is no ambiguity in claiming him to be the child and she to be the older sage. When she claims that John Henry should stay over because he looks scared, Frankie is merely displacing her own fears and projecting them onto John Henry, to take a Freudian angle on the situation. Then, there is an ironic turn when the two of them sleep together, which only further proves Frankie's continued youth and innocence despite her efforts. Here she is, sleeping with another male, but with no concept of how this might be strange and inappropriate for a purported adult woman to be sleeping with a little boy.
John Henry's death happens with just a whisper, much in the way that childhood just disappears one day and one wakes up older without even realizing it. In fact, so little is said about his death, that one might argue that he never existed at all except as a metaphorical representation of Frankie's lingering youth. After all, he is seldom engaged into conversation in any concrete manner, except when he makes isolated interjections. When he tags along with Frankie into town to get her fortune taken, he is so invisible, it is easy to forget he is there. So his eventual death is totally unsentimental because he was really only the shadow of a character to begin with, or a shadow of Frankie's character.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Member of the Wedding!