Travels With Charley Steinbeck Essay

Conservative and romantic, Steinbeck stuck to the sturdy rationalism that insists that the old questions will not be wished away, that the old virtues cannot be dispensed with, that the rule of first things first still applies.The direct route is the best, because the best cannot be captured unaware or bought cheap.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.

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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."…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.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.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.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.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.


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