Travels With Charley Steinbeck Essay

Johnson, like Steinbeck, insisted on responding to the problems of the 1960's as if they were those of the 1930's. 299) Steinbeck was able to see the Vietnamese conflict not in ideological terms but as a necessary stimulant to American morale.He embraced—again like many of his countrymen—the puritanical notion that a nation can flourish only when it is fighting against physical odds—"westering."…

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Yet his California was a very special one, a narrow strip embracing Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties, sleepy California that time passed by.

He ignored the great cities except in glimpses and if he wrote of other places, it was likely to be the New England village of Winter of Our Discontent or the Northwest orchards of In Dubious Battle.

Steinbeck had frozen into a political position that in the 1930's enabled him to avoid fashionable error and made him the champion of common sense, but that in the 1960's isolated him from the problems of affluence.

(This judgment is grounded in the idea that in the 1930's the nation's problems were primarily those of underproduction and physical survival, but that in the 1960's—although there are still a sizable number of "disadvantaged" persons in the society—the problems were principally those of overproduction and spiritual disenchantment.) What is most significant is how closely the thinking of the man who, regardless of critical demurrers, was one of the most distinguished twentieth-century American writers mirrored that of Lyndon Johnson, whose once awe-inspiring reputation as a political operator crumbled because of his inability to communicate with most people under forty.

He failed to grasp that in an age when a potential threat of atomic destruction hangs over the whole world—when man could annihilate himself—the question of who "wins" this or that particular physical engagement can hardly be a burning issue. The failure of Steinbeck's private politics was to reflect a general failure of American politics. The political fastidiousness of the polite liberal—epitomized by Steinbeck—is surely one of them. 304-05) Warren French, "John Steinbeck (1902–1968)," in The Politics of Twentieth-Century Novelists, edited by George Panichas (reprinted by permission of Hawthorn Books, Inc.; copyright © 1971 by The University of Maryland; all rights reserved), Hawthorn, 1971, pp. Talismanic symbols take many and various forms in Steinbeck's novels.

In To A God Unknown the rock in the forest glade is a talisman to Joseph Wayne, and the rock is described much like the pink piece of stone in The Winter of Our Discontent.So, for that matter, does violence, and Steinbeck knew that there is a love which must take up the knife to slay another, because it is the same love which leads to a knowing willingness to sacrifice the self. 230) Steinbeck is entirely representative of an American type of great influence during the first two decades following World War II, the Stevenson Democrat.Steinbeck was indeed preeminent among the men of letters to whom this label could be applied; he was one of the many who, having lived through the frustrations of the Depression and the horrors of the war, hoped that the direction of the country might at last be entrusted to a quiet, introspective, cautiously idealistic man with roots in a characteristically American agrarian community.The admission shows that Steinbeck's thinking had not become sophisticated enough to deal with the subtle problems of an age of affluence.Part of the trouble is that when values are principally physical—as in problems of survival—it is not difficult to perceive the differences between contenders; but when values are principally intellectual or spiritual—as in problems of adjustment—it may be very difficult to perceive differences. 303-04) In his great novels of the 1930's Steinbeck intentionally alerted the nation to the dangers that persistence in the stereotyped thinking fostered by the chimerical speculative abundance that a virgin continent once promised presented to a land that had failed to solve the problems of fairly distributing its resources.The trouble with the Stevensonians during an age of affluence like the 1960's is that they were rarely able to convert their nebulous vision of a better society into meaningful specifics.They were driven into trying to see in the pacification of the Mekong Delta the restoration of Candide's garden. 297) Steinbeck's political views became increasingly irrelevant, because—like many others of his liberal persuasion—he insisted on seeing the present in terms of the past.We can perform a service to our culture, to the preservation of its truest values, by not overrating the work of this man of goodwill who was sometimes a competent novelist, though never "great." Steinbeck was never a utopian because he was always a man with a place.He was a Californian, and his writings never succeeded very well when he tried to walk alien soil.One prevalent form of the talismanic pattern is the relationship between men and particular "places." In The Winter of Our Discontent Ethan has a hidden cave along the side of the sea, a sanctuary of sorts where he can retreat from worldly traumas and, through a sense of harmony and oneness with his environment, gather together the fragments of his being and find wholeness and unity within himself.Virtually all of Steinbeck's characters have a talismanic place such as Ethan's. 263-64) Steinbeck is reluctant to offer any simple explanation for the need men have of such places, but throughout his writing there is the implicit suggestion that some sort of fundamental relationship exists between the places and the deeper parts of the human psyche. 264) Identification results when man transfers part of his own being to his symbols, when an object becomes suffused with human spirit so that a complete interpenetration exists.


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