Travels With Charley Steinbeck Essay

In these two cases the talisman is true to the dictionary definition of a stone, but in other novels the idea is expanded to include anything that men believe in or go to for some kind of nonrational fulfillment, anything that sparks a man to identify with it and project the mystery of his being upon it.On a larger scale, the idea is manifest in the land in Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath; on a smaller scale, the talisman is the image of the virgin that Juan Chicoy communes with but does not accept as a Christian symbol in The Wayward Bus, Kino's pearl, Danny's house in Tortilla Flat, and a wide variety of other objects throughout Steinbeck's fiction.There are streaks of honesty and insight in the book, and one chilling and effective look at New Orleans racism.

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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.

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."…

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.That did not make him lapse into quietism, or leave him indifferent to social reform.Far from it: compassion and concern lie on the direct route too.Literary experts of high standing have either ignored Steinbeck or, in critical books and journals of limited circulation, have exposed his defects.Edmund Wilson, Alfred Kazin, and Maxwell Geismar are three important critics, for example, who have detailed Steinbeck's imperfections….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.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.At a time when people were hungry and dispossessed and wandering, Steinbeck was one of their literate spokesmen.But too many readers mistook his sentimentalism for compassion; sentimentalism, that is, in the sense of tearfully expecting too much from life.


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