The Golden Arm

--Informant Info--
Nationality:
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context

The story of The Golden Arm is a folktale dating back 200 years, originally conceived to discourage greediness. Mark Twain famously performed this ghost story, sometimes didactically as a way to teach the skill of storytelling. Importantly, the legend of The Golden Arm is an orally-told story. It is performed theatrically via word-of-mouth and with some scream sound effects, rather than being read from a traditional book. The Golden Arm story in particular is designed to provoke intense emotional reactions and thrills out of the audience. 

The Story

“As a child, we would tell ghost stories around the campfire, in the woods. The one that I remember the most is The Man with the Golden Arm. This person had his golden arm stolen. He was searching all over the place for the golden arm. He’d always come back and his voice would say, 

‘I waaaant my goooolden aaaaarm…’

And then you get another kid around the campfire that the audience couldn’t see to say while you’re telling the story,

‘I waaaant my goooolden aaaaarm…’

Oh my goodness, he’s here! Did you hear that? In the end, you get them so excited and then you grab them—there it is! It scares them. That was always a trick we liked to play. And I had it played on me too, so I was one of the victims.”

Thoughts

As in the excerpt above, the story of The Golden Arm was told as a kid at summer camp around the campfire in the middle of the woods. The titular man’s artificial golden arm has been stolen after his death, so he returns as a ghost to get his golden arm back. The nature of the man with the golden arm is described in this way: 

“When the body stops working, the spirit keeps going. It’s like putting your hand into a glove, where your hand is animating the glove. Your hand is your spirit and the glove is your body. If you take your hand out of the glove, the glove doesn’t move anymore, but the spirit, the hand, still does in the spirit world. “

Like the glove and the hand, the golden arm is like an everlasting spirit––a ghostly possession with a life after death.

I really liked this story. It sparks the question of whether artificial objects like artificial limbs can be haunted? Notably, the golden arm retains its monetary value even after its owner is no longer living, inciting the motive of theft. Therefore, it is possible that the golden arm itself is actually the “ghost” of the man, since the golden arm preserves the man’s life, and has maintained social and economic contexts from which to engage with and trigger ghostly haunting, namely the arm’s robbing.