To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to arms.
Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he, with his horrid crew,
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Confounded, though immortal. But his doom
Reserved him to more wrath; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him: round he throws his baleful eyes,
That witnessed huge affliction and dismay,
Mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate.
I’ve never forgotten the image of the Wheat King writhing at the bottom of the grain elevator as the stream of grain buries him. He’s a greedy bastard and he smothers.
Do we really need more nuance? Do we want more? Exploring why the Wheat King could become ‘king’ of anything in a democratic society might deny us the opportunity to convict him fully. It’s so cathartic to set a blatant villain in sharp relief to blatant victims—those victims being us, of course. Griffith knew it in 1909, and we know it now. Nevertheless, there is a deeper lesson to be learned from Corner in Wheat, if we’re prepared to look for it.