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A Hard Working Big Butter and Egg Man: An Inherent Contradiction

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When I analyze the lyrics of the song Big Butter and Egg Man by Louis Armstrong, I realize that it is filled with contradictory statements. The song speaks of a woman who wants to find a man who is a butter and egg man, but also a man “who’s workin’ all day.” A butter and egg man is a slang term for a man with copious amounts of money who spends it freely in nightclubs and on other luxuries. The inherit contradiction of the title conveys a political message that the existence of both of these qualities– a man with a strong working spirit who also leads a luxurious lifestyle – was all but impossible.

Big Butter and Egg Man was written and sung five years before the start of the Great Depression, an economic meltdown that was partially caused by a concentration of the country’s wealth. Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge strengthened this concentration of wealth. These former presidents supported a laissez-faire policy that arguably helped keep power in the hands of the few. These leaders deviated from the progressive policies effected by their Democrat predecessors and instead employed a conservative program that called for less federal involvement. The song Big Butter and Egg Man addresses the inequality that accompanied the redistribution of wealth, and suggests that Louis Armstrong and the songwriter, Percy Venable, did not believe that Western and Southern aristocrats had earned their money through their own hard work. Western and Southern aristocrats are specifically addressed by the lyrics, “[A] butter an egg man from way out west…A great big butter and egg man from way down south.” The song makes the statement that there is a disparity between the amount of money a working man acquires throughout his career and the wealth that big butter and egg men inherit.

A Big Butter and Egg Man reflects the political crisis of the time by illuminating the problems within the economic climate, specifically the redistribution of wealth that favored the rich. The song not only serves as a precursor to the Great Depression but accentuates the issues that occur when big butter and egg men have prominent roles in society, while accomplishing little to earn that status.



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