What John Steinbeck obtained Proper, and Improper, About America 50 Years In the past

In September 1960, John Steinbeck decided to take a caravan, his departure from New York, and the United States. When he named the RV – Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse – he recalled the same trip he had taken in 1936, when he boarded a loaf of bread, left his home near Monterey, California, and headed for San Joaquin Valley to report on his relocation work. in the area. The first trip to the street released his first major book, 1939 Grapes of Wrath. The second would bring the last one – 1962 beautiful, angry and (in time) Charley’s opposition to Search of America.

As Steinbeck wrote in the first pages of Charley, he missed the experience of seeing for himself the diversity of the country. “I have never heard of America, I smell grass and trees and toilets, I have seen its hills and water, its color and its light,” he wrote. Anger’s Encouragement was similar, but drawing a connection between the experience and the difficult business with Steinbeck. For better or worse, he did not write the same book twice. (“When his curtain rises, he always shows off some shows,” author Edmund Wilson wrote.) As William Souder writes in his new Steinbeck novel, Mad in the World, the author was born a protagonist.

“I think one reason they go [on the Charley trip] it’s because the mob tried to stop him, ”says Souder, whose earlier writings include the writings of John James Audubon and Rachel Carson. Those around him, Souder adds, “think he doesn’t do this physically or emotionally. And, of course, Steinbeck always pushes anyone who tells him he can’t do anything. Naturally he didn’t want anyone to force him.”

He had good reason to be upset and wanted to run away. He had worked for many years writing one of his favorite childhood books, Thomas Malory of Le Morte d’Arthur, but his career won him over. The books he completed instead – The Wayward Bus, Dissatisfied Winter – were few. He suffered a stroke in late 1959. Charley could testify that he could not read or write.

Steinbeck’s two-and-a-half-month tour around the country – an area of ​​more than 10,000 miles[10,000 km]along with his poison, Charley – has been shown to be more salty. He wrote about encounters with potato pickers in Maine, Minnesota caterer, Texas cattle ranchers. But while they’re often fun – and most of Charley finds Steinbeck in his comedy – there are still problems that are slowly growing in the book. 1960 was an election year, and he realized that he was less concerned about the country because of its policies, which most people are free to express themselves. He feared that the highways would erase what made the country so exciting: “When we get to travel across the country, as we will and should, we will be able to drive from New York to California without seeing anything,” he wrote.

The climax of Charley is its darkest time, as Steinbeck travels to New Orleans, where he testifies to white protesters criticizing school mixes. He describes the self-inflicted outrage of the mob, misguided in words that could have been sent 60 years later without changing the word, and repeated to the MAGA conference today: “There was no good or bad idea, no advice,” he wrote. “They were very happy, almost innocent winners when they clapped their hands. . ”

Charley gave an example of what Souder described as Steinbeck’s long-standing frustration over the many atrocities in the world, whether by landowners or Nazis or violent bandits. “I think that what he set out to do, and what he went through with it all his life, was the idea that there is good and bad in the world, that we are living in this dark and white age,” he says. “And it is the responsibility of other people, whether they are powerful heroes or writers in America, to stand up for what is right or to reveal what is not.”

“Steinbeck was not angry until he arrived in New Orleans, and anger always does a good job for him,” says Souder. “I think the other part of the book reaches out to you – it seems to be temporary in our time, just as its function works.”

Steinbeck was an excellent observer of American life, but it is not the same as saying he was a great journalist. As Souder explains, even though Steinbeck was researching The Grapes of Wrath, he can be extremely shy and need help to find out more. “He was not a fearless journalist,” she says. “Wasn’t he a free man to walk a stranger and say, ‘I’m John Steinbeck, do this, can I talk to you?'” This is important to know because, no matter how busy Charley is, there are so many true myths. In 2011 a journalist, Bill Steigerwald, discovered that Steinbeck spent longer at hotels than in Rocinante, often accompanied by his wife, Elaine, and probably made most of those he met along the way. (The 50-year-old edition of the book added the statement that Steinbeck “exchanged facts.”)

But if there were any questions about Charley’s authenticity at the time, he was disappointed when Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Books a few months after the book was published. The question of whether Steinbeck deserved the award kept haunting him until his death in 1968, and Steinbeck’s history is still alive today – Anger is a very good and compassionate book, and his moral values ​​can be simpler. (Steinbeck, too, described his critics as a “gray priesthood that interprets writing and does not engage in reading.” says Souder. “But he was a constant pilot.”

Did all that reconstruction cost? Did his failings sting him, even though he was well? There is a beautiful, sad piece in Charley that sets the book apart as, if not an accurate translation of America, perhaps the most impressive example of its author. When he arrives in Chicago exhausted, he goes to a hotel – his reservation room is not ready, but he has been given one that has just been released. He thinks of the former, “Lonely Harry” – a businessman who misses his wife but lives with a friend outside the city. He drank heavily but tried to keep his life simple. “He did nothing that could not be predicted,” Steinbeck wrote. “He didn’t break a glass or a glass, he didn’t get upset, and he didn’t leave happy evidence.” Alone in a room with an imaginary person, on the way in the middle of America, he was writing about his great national concerns, as well as about himself.

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