Updated date:

Edgar Lee Masters "'Ace' Shaw"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

Introduction and Text of "'Ace' Shaw"

Edgar Lee Masters’ "Ace’ Shaw" from his American classic, Spoon River Anthology, attempts to achieve justification of his unseemly choice of vocation by asserting that all jobs are simply the result of "chance." The epitaph featuring the character of "Ace" Shaw, therefore, reveals and features a typical Spoon River braggart, whose report unveils a dodgy personality.

"Ace" Shaw

I never saw any difference
Between playing cards for money
And selling real estate,
Practicing law, banking, or anything else.
For everything is chance.
Nevertheless
Seest thou a man diligent in business?
He shall stand before Kings!

Reading of "'Ace' Shaw"

Commentary

"Ace" Shaw features a typical Spoon River braggart whose report justifies his unseemly choice of profession.

First Movement: A Gambler

I never saw any difference
Between playing cards for money
And selling real estate,
Practicing law, banking, or anything else.

"Ace" Shaw, whose nickname identifies him as a gambling man, claims that to him lawyers, bankers, real estate agents, and all others working in any profession or job for money are all gamblers, that is, all those professions are no different from "playing cards for money."

Point of view is always the most important issue in determining the conclusions each individual will form. "Ace" being a gambling man, and one who is apparently dedicated to his craft, then views his choice as noble and as dicey as the next guy’s. Of course, in order to accomplish this rationalization, he has to filter out the actual impact that each profession has on society.

To this type of personality, narcissistic, egotistic, self-centered to the extreme, others do not matter so long as they render unto him what he thinks he deserves. That gambling for money offers no service to society does not enter into Ace's estimation in determining worth—only the ability to acquire money is his measure.

Ace will never understand that bankers, lawyers, real estate agents, and members of other professions such a medicine, education, media, or even public service actually provide a service to society for which they are remunerated according to the level of service. That each professional might fail at his work is enough for Ace, and his ilk, to denigrate all of the potential service providers to little more than gamblers, like himself.

Second Movement: Life of Choices

For everything is chance.

Ace claims that everything one does in life remains a gamble. But some things are more fraught with the possibilities for negative occurrences than others. If "everything is chance," and nothing is sure, then why not set one’s goal higher than mere card playing?

Why not do something that offers a real service? The only answer is that Ace prefers the life of a card sharp; at the same time, intuitively, he knows his choice is less honorable than the bankers and lawyers he tries to belittle in order to make himself seem more important.

Third Movement: Lazy Man's Philosophy

Nevertheless
Seest thou a man diligent in business?
He shall stand before Kings!

Ace is lazy. So instead of explaining his circumstances in order to prop up his choice, he simply quotes Proverbs 22:29: "Seest thou a man diligent in business? / He shall stand before Kings!" By introducing the quotation with "nevertheless," Ace appears to be contradicting his earlier claims, but his personality would not allow such humility.

The gambler is once again simply justifying his choice by claiming that his proficiency will stand him in good stead. The gambling Ace will "stand before Kings"—and not before the "mean" men who appear in the line, "he shall not stand before mean men," which follows the two lines from Proverbs that Ace quotes.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles