Why is it important for John Henry to beat the steam drill?

Well, one reason is to show that man is better than machine... but I think it is more complicated than that. There are a lot more questions involved there... loyalty, responsibility, employer and employee relationships... a lot of things. Everything that John Henry is and everything that he has is tied up in what he does. It was important to him almost as a validation of his entire existence... because without his job, without being better than that machine... what was the purpose of his life? What was he offering society, or anyone? I think that theme carries on today and is still at the core of many employment issues. Losing a job, to many people, is almost like losing a part of yourself... and losing it to a machine is even more dehumanizing.