A Viper Lived in Johnny's House, or A Child's First Verse in Political Philosophy


A viper lived in Johnny’s house, so all in the family understood that they must watch their steps although the snake had not struck — they knew it could.

One day Johnny ventured to query why they kept a serpent at home; he asked his father, who seemed leery of responding: "Go and ask your mom."

Mother had her hands full but, busy with her chores, she looked up from her desk: "Every house has a snake, young Johnny, Our home is just like all the rest."

Johnny’s curiosity unslaked, he asked his father once more: "Why must we keep a venomous snake? Why can’t we just kick it out the door?"

"Listen, boy, it’s not wise to wonder. From the earliest days of mankind, everyone’s had a viper or another sort of snake: people say they’re divine."

Johnny knew well that his own parents viewed the snake as some species of god. They sang hymns to it at special events. When the snake hissed, they’d pleasantly nod.

At home, they surrendered a great deal of their food for the snake to consume. His big fangs he scarcely concealed as he lay coiled in their dining room.

Mother fancied the snake had brought them prosperity and good fortune; it fostered their health and their vim; to their income it gave a great boon.

Father deemed that the snake kept away even worse snakes from down the river, so the nasty viper ought to stay in the house for protection delivered.

But for Johnny, all excuses fell flat, and he dreamed of the day he would slay the disgusting, menacing serpent that distressed him by night and by day.

So he sharpened the hoe with a file till its edge was as keen as could be, and he waited in silence a while for twilight, when the snake could not see.

Then he swung down as hard as he could, and he sliced off the head so neatly that the snake scarcely scented the blood that gushed from its body completely.

Then Johnny disposed of debris, and cleaned up the grisly mess, and he waited for morning to see how the world worked with one serpent less.

To everyone’s great surprise, it seemed, the day dawned as bright as before: security reigned and prosperity gleamed and no menaces came to their door.

The viper, they now realized, had been evil all right, but unneeded, and his absence made everyone glad. Johnny’s bold stroke entirely succeeded.