RE: Alt/Life
May 12, 2019

Nursery Rhyme Review: Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.

Summary: Socially ostracised farm worker stares down demands of capitalist market by declaring communist ideals of equal distribution regardless of social position.

Like many stories of poor, down trodden workers, the story begins with a setup that is reminiscent of another story of class struggle, Les Misérables. The meek, the simple folk, just trying to survive in the world in any way they can. And just like Jean Valjean, the hero of that other famous epic, the main character in this story is declared an outcast of society, a 'black sheep'. It is, I think, a story device well used to remind us that through the struggles of those we ostracise we can see what it truly means to be human.

In an attempt to make it's way in the world, the sheep finds employment in doing what they do naturally, selling the very wool off it's back. And, just as a Valjean becomes successful as Mayor, this poor, black sheep manages to make their mark on the world, even to the point where their wool is of such high demand that Lords and Ladies hear word of it. It seems at this point, the rags to riches story could finish there on a happy note.

But not all stories must finish in capitalist ideals of what it is to be successful, and this is where the author shines in capturing the essence of egalitarianism. At the height of it's fame, our once black sheep finds themselves confronted by the harsh realities of a system that only sees them as a product; the demand of the open market, entrapping them in to a consumerist lead cycle of production and waste that only benefits the few. In five simple words, 'do you have any wool?', the sheep's world is put into conflict.

And at first the reader believes that the sheep will meet these demands with it's seemingly enthusiastic platitudes of 'Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir!'. But it is here we see the first signs of failure, for the sheep only has three bags full. Is this enough, we are forced to ask? How much wool can a single sheep produce to cater for an ever expanding market? Will this sheep just be another lamb to the slaughter?

In an apparent display of boasting, maybe to influence the Sir to lower his production expectations, the sheep begins to reel off it's clientele. First the Master, then the Dame. Clearly, to the reader at least, the sheep is trying to make a point to the Sir that it has far more important clients than them and they will just have to wait. At first you can be mistaken in thinking the protagonist is merely swapping one economic master for another in the form of imperialist class structures, trying to embed themselves into the elite circles of the wealthy and royalty.

We are left confused. How can such a humble sheep, who worked so hard from a low position, who made a success of themselves within the cut-throat capitalist system and avoided being thrown to the wolves of Wall Street, submit to such obvious cronyism?

But in a remarkable twist at the end which reveals the sheep's true loyalties, having cleverly pulled the wool over the eyes of the demanding Sir. In a climax of redemption worthy of any great opera or musical, it is with resounding conviction that the sheep rejects this 'sir'. And even if the tune is different, we can hear the demand of justice, a la 'Do you hear the people sing?', when the sheep boldly declares "YES! I have one for the Master. YES! I have one for the dame. But all are equal, and even the low shall have warmth so YES! I also have one for the little boy that lives down the lane!".

And it is in this heart bursting moment we recognise the moral of this story, a simple allegory that suggests that no matter your success or the power of your clients, for there to be a just society, even the ones living down the narrow lanes should have fair and equitable access to the service we have to offer, and sometimes it is up to us to make that happen.