The Midnight Special (analysis)

The Midnight Special

Claude Monet (1875)


Well you wake up in the morning you hear the work bell ring
And they march you to the table to see the same old thing.
Ain’t no food upon the table and no pork up in the pan.
But you better not complain boy, you get in trouble with the man.

The first verse describes prison life and warns the listener that he must never say a word, even though prison can be terrible. If a convict complains, the prison staff will punish him.

Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine an ever-loving light on me.

The chorus deals with the train that passes by Sugar Land prison around midnight. Its light shining in the night offer comfort and hope. They believed that , if a prisoner were touched by the light of the train, he would soon gain freedom. Therefore, the train was seen as a symbol of freedom, hope, salvation in the dark despair of incarceration.

Yonder come miss Rosie, how in the world did you know?
By the way she wears her apron, and the clothes she wore.
Umbrella on her shoulder, piece of paper in her hand;
She come to see the governor, she wants to free her man.

The second verse portrays a woman, Rosie, presumably the wife or lover of an inmate, bringing paperwork to the governor to request a pardon. It is the governor that pardons a criminal convicted of offenses committed against the state.

If you’re ever in Houston, well, you better do the right;
You better not gamble, there, you better not fight, at all
Or the sheriff will grab you and the boys will bring you down.
The next thing you know, boy, Oh! You’re prison bound.

The last verse is a warning on how to behave in Houston, where people have to avoid gambling and fighting ; they must conduct themselves properly, if they don’t want to be confined in a prison.


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