The short story Like a Winding Sheet is written by Anne Petry. She has written stories which show the prejudice African Americans faced during her time and this is one of those.
The main theme of this story is racism, and due to the discrimination faced by the African Americans during those times, that led to domestic violence occurring. Johnson is an African American who is happy with his wife Mae, but not with his work. His job is painful, makes him lose out on sleep and he finds it degrading. His boss is a woman and “It was funny to have a white woman for a boss in a plant like this one.” (Petry, 1945) The fact that a white person, and a woman at that, calls him off for not working properly angers him and he has to resist the urge to beat her up, saying that he would never beat a woman.
Further on in the story, there is a white girl serving coffee at a shop who refuses to give any to Johnson just because he is black, or so he thinks. His blood is pounding and his hands have formed into fists, ready to beat her, but he manages to get himself under control by walking out of the place.
Eventually, he goes home to a cheerful Mae. The way she acts reminds him of his earlier encounters with the two women and that infuriates him. As she jokingly calls him a “nigger” (Petry, 1945) his hands get a mind of their own and he starts hitting her. He knows he should not be doing it, but he cannot stop himself. This may be happening because she is a black just like him and he will not be punished for physically assaulting her. So he lets go of all his frustrations and takes them out on her.
Domestic abuse is something which was quite common in the mid twentieth century, particularly in the African American households, and this story is a perfect example of that.
Petry, A. (1945). Like a Winding Sheet.