Intimately connected to the story’s themes of racism and vengeance is the power of humility, as both Willie and the white man must overcome their personal pride in the name of peace and survival. Beyond an admission of wrongdoing, the story depicts humility as evidence of taking responsibility for one’s actions and a vital precursor to forgiveness and healing.
“The Other Foot” presents Earth on the verge of total destruction after nearly two decades of atomic war. With are only 500,000 people left on the planet and all cities reduced to rubble, the white man has arrived on Mars to ask for the Martian’s help in getting the surviving Earth people off the planet. His plea is immediately characterized by humility as he refuses to name himself, asserting that his specific identity does not matter. He goes on to unflinchingly admit that the Earth people—himself included—have been foolish and evil in their treatment of black people in the past. Humbly, he tells the Martians, “We’ve been stupid. Before God we admit our stupidity and our evilness. All the Chinese and the Indians and the Russians and the British and the Americans. We’re asking to be taken in.” Continuing his plea, the white man says that the Earth people are ready and willing to work for the Martians, even if doing so means partaking in demeaning or subservient behavior. He says, “We deserve anything you want to do to us […] we’ll work for you and do the things you did for us—clean your houses, cook your meals, [and] shine your shoes.”
The Earth people’s willingness to endure the same treatment they subjected the Martians to for centuries shows an acceptance of responsibility for their past actions, as well as an acknowledgment of the immense pain they put the Martians through. The white man goes so far as to admit that the Earth people’s actions have affected innumerable people over hundreds of years, saying, “[we’ll] humble ourselves in the sight of God for the things we have done over the centuries to ourselves, to others, and to you.” The angry Martian mob quiets at the man’s words, its thirst for vengeance tempered by such honesty and self-recrimination. This reflects the power of humility to combat rage and violence.
Like the white man, Willie ultimately sets aside his pride and admits his own mistakes as a means to build a more peaceful world. On the way home from meeting the white man, Willie tells Hattie that “what happens next is up to all of us. The time for being fools is over. We got to be something else except fools.” Willie does not try to abdicate responsibility for trying to reestablish racial segregation and spark hatred in people’s hearts. Rather, by using the word “we,” he directly takes responsibility for both himself and his community. His use of the word “fools” further echoes the white man’ earlier language, illustrating the similarity of realizations on both sides and suggesting the power of humility to inspire meaningful reflection in all who witness it.
Indeed, Hattie recognizes that Willie’s ability to set aside his pride and accept the white man means that there will be a “new start for everyone.” Willie agrees, saying, “now the white man’s as lonely as we’ve always been. He’s got no home now, just like we didn’t have one for so long.” Humility has allowed both parties to look past their anger and instead toward their shared experiences. With the white man’s admission of guilt, Willie realizes that he doesn’t need to exact revenge or assert his own authority. Humility grants him the space to accept that the Martians and the Earth people have both suffered greatly over the years and can now welcome a new era of forgiveness.
Humility and Forgiveness ThemeTracker
Humility and Forgiveness Quotes in The Other Foot
“You ain’t going to lynch him?”
“Lynch him?” Everyone laughed. Mr. Brown slapped his knee. “Why, bless you, child, no! We’re going to shake his hand. Ain’t we, everyone?”
“We’ve been stupid. Before God we admit our stupidity and our evilness. All the Chinese and the Indians and the Russians and the British and the Americans. We’re asking to be taken in […] We deserve anything you want to do to us, but don’t shut us out.”
“The Lord’s let us come through, a few here and a few there. And what happens next is up to all of us. The time for being fools is over. We got to be something else except fools. […] now the white man’s as lonely as we’ve always been. He’s got no home now, just like we didn’t have one for so long. Now everything’s even. We can start all over again, on the same level.”