Robert Todd Lincoln: Angel of Death

Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation takes you on a presidential death trip in which Robert Todd Lincoln was the one common factor. He was at the site of the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley when they were committed. The recurrence of Robert Todd Lincoln shows how unlucky he was to be a part of these morbid experiences and allows Vowell to connect three unrelated presidential assassinations together.

Vowell presents Robert Todd Lincoln as having an angel of death on his shoulder. It seems like everywhere he goes someone dies. When his father, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, Robert Todd Lincoln was just a couple blocks away. Even though he “was emotionally distant from his father, with whom he spent less time with as a child than his brothers” (“Robert Todd Lincoln”),  he would be by Lincoln’s bedside when he passed away. Robert Todd Lincoln was standing near James Garfield when he was shot by Charles Guiteau and saw the whole thing. He was thinking of the dying president but also of Garfield’s sons. Robert Todd Lincoln had been in the same boat they were in sixteen years before. He said to a reporter “[h]ow many hours of sorrow I have passed in this town” (161). He would have many more hours of sorrow before everything was over.

Robert Todd Lincoln continued as the Secretary of War after Garfield died and Chester Arthur took over. In the 1880’s Lincoln sent an Arctic expedition group up to the North Pole and he forgot about them. The men thought that a relief ship was going to come to bring them supplies but it never came. After two years they decided to head back home. Only six survived and the others were eaten by the survivors because they had no food. This disaster left Robert Todd Lincoln “with frozen blood on his hands” (161). The report of cannibalism got out to the public and he had to cover it up by saying the men used the human flesh as shrimp bait. Robert Todd Lincoln not only experienced death “first hand” but some of it was caused by his own.

William McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz at the Pan American Exposition in 1901. Robert Todd Lincoln was at the exposition when it happened. McKinley was taken to Pan American’s President’s house, where he eventually died. Robert Todd Lincoln, being the president of the Pullman Company would have been a better target for Czolgosz but he chose McKinley instead. After Roosevelt became president, Robert Todd Lincoln sent him a letter saying how he has seen too many presidents assassinated and wished him a successful administration.

Vowell calls Robert Todd Lincoln “Jinxy McDeath” (236). He experienced three presidential assassinations during his lifetime, including his father’s. She makes sure that everyone knows how unlucky Robert Lincoln was. His experiences shaped the course of his life and made him into the man he was.

Work Cited

Vowell, Sarah. Assassination Vacation. Simon and Schuster. 2005.

“Robert Todd Lincoln.” The Lehrman Institute, n.d. Web. 07

Dec. 2016.

Iago the Troublemaker

Susan Snyder’s essay “Othello: A Modern Perspective” offers an insight into why Othello and Desdemona’s marriage ended so tragically. She discusses different factors that help build up to the final fate of these characters. The leading cause would be Iago, whose hatred of Othello leads him to lie about Desdemona and knowingly ignite the flame that sends him over the edge.

Iago wants revenge for not being promoted to lieutenant. He believes he is more deserving and capable than Cassio. Iago points out that Cassio is nothing but a mathematician who has “never set a squadron in the field, [n]or the division of a battle knows” (1.1.23-24). Cassio is green as far as experience goes and only knows what he has learned from books. Iago has worked his way up from the bottom and is looked over because he doesn’t know influential people. He decides he will mess with Othello by dragging Desdemona into the middle of this dispute, along with Cassio.

Othello trusts Iago more than he does Desdemona. His military background is all he knows and the trust with his men is somewhat higher than his trust with his wife. This is what leads to Othello’s downfall. Every lie Iago tells him he believes. Also women were seen as “property, prized indeed but more as object than as person” (p.295). Othello can’t stand to think that Desdemona is cheating on him and would rather have her dead. Iago knows this and keeps pushing Othello until he decides to end it once and for all.

Snyder presents several reasons why Othello and Desdemona’s marriage ended in disaster. Iago can be found in the middle of everything. He gets rid of Cassio and takes his Lieutenancy, but simply says to Othello after the promotion “I am your own forever” (3.3.546). His hatred is still there even though he got what he wanted and doesn’t stop until Othello has met his end.

Works Cited

Mowat, Barbara A. and Paul Werstine, eds. Folger Shakespeare Library: Othello by William Shakespeare. Simon and Schuster, 2009.

Snyder, Susan. “Othello: A Modern Perspective.” Folger Shakespeare Library: Othello by William Shakespeare, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Simon and Schuster, 2009. 287-98.


Keep Your Enemies Close and Your Assassins Closer

Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation takes you on a trip of death. The first two chapters are about Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, and the men who killed them. Although the Garfield chapter isn’t as interesting as the Lincoln chapter, Vowell uses her personal tongue in cheek style of writing to make the tragic assassination of President Garfield more enjoyable to read.

Both chapters give an insight into the assassins lives. Vowell presents information that explains these men a little better. John Wilkes Booth believed that “John Brown was a man inspired, the grandest character of the century” (83). Vowell makes clear that Booth wanted to be praised for what he did like Brown was praised. Charles Guiteau joined the Oneida Community, a religious sex cult that his father adored so he would be accepted. People within the cult typically liked and got along with each other except for Guiteau. He was different and people had a hard time connecting with him.

Vowell uses her wit to present information throughout the chapters. Garfield isn’t well known and Vowell makes clear that “[t]he most famous thing ever said about President James A. Garfield is about how nobody has any idea who the hell he was” (123). She continues to put in humor when the mood is serious and allows the reader to have a comic relief.

Vowell presents information in a humorous way. This helps change a chapter from being boring to enjoyable. For example, in Chapter Two Vowell says “[e]xcept for the dead- serious details of assassinating President Garfield and being in all likelihood clinically insane, Charles Guiteau might be the funniest man in American history…” (174). She is able to take a president or assassin that no one really knows and gives the reader something to relate to or even laugh about.

Work Cited

Vowell, Sarah. Assassination Vacation. Simon and Schuster. 2005.


The Confused Ark of Gibbeah

In John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James, Apostle York is telling the church to be ready because the end is coming. He tells them that there are only two in the village who aren’t pure and that evil can never win over good.

He came with a strong force and “calls himself Apostle York” (35). Apostle York came to Gibbeah to make the village holy again. He claims he was sent by God to do his work in the village. Apostle York is trying to get the villagers behind him so that they will do anything he says by false preaching.

The villagers don’t see what Pastor Bligh sees. They believe he has come to save them and change Gibbeah. Pastor Bligh sees a phony prophet tricking all these people. Apostle York preaches to the congregation that “every heart in Gibbeah was pure, save two” (159). He wants to get rid of Pastor Bligh and Widow Greenfield because they won’t conform.

Apostle York wanted to hurt Gibbeah after what happened to him in the village. He was tearing the village apart and making everyone more worse off than they already were.

Work Cited

James, Marlon. John Crow’s Devil. Akashic. 2005.