Wednesday, March 6, 2013

John Steinbeck and the Nineteenth Century

I adore John Steinbeck. I really do. His words, his works, they capture so very much. The human experience. The American experience. I have recently been reading East of Eden for the who knows how manyth time and I was once again taken by his distillation of the nineteenth century. The step toward verse - near poetic, but yet not. So cold and matter of fact. And I think he got it right.  I offer...

History was secreted in the glands of a million historians. we must get out of this banged-up century, some said, out of this cheating murderous century of riot and secret death, of scrabbling for public lands and damn well getting them by any means at all.

Think back, recall our little nation fringing the oceans, torn with complexities, too big for its britches. Just got going when the British took us on again. We beat them, but it didn't do us much good. What we had was a burned White House and ten thousand widows on the public pension list.

Then the soldiers went to Mexico and it was a kind of painful picnic. Nobody knows why you go to a picnic to be uncomfortable when it is so easy and pleasant to eat at home. The Mexican War did two good things though. We got a lot of western land, damn near doubled our size, and besides that it was training for generals, so that when the sad self-murder settled on us the leaders knew the techniques for making it properly horrible.

And then the arguments:

Can you keep a slave?

Well if you bought him in good faith, why not?

Next they'll be saying a man can't have a horse. Who is it who wants to take my property?

And there we were, like a man scratching at his own face and bleeding into his own beard.

Well, that was over and we got slowly up off the bloody ground and started westward.

There came boom and bust, bankruptcy, depression.

Great public thieves came along and picked the pockets of everyone who had a pocket.

To hell with that rotten century!


1 comment:

  1. I am a big Steinbeck fan too. If you are ever in Salinas I recommend you visit the National Steinbeck Center. It has a fabulous museum that has individual displays for each of his novels. It even has the camper he drove in "Travels with Charlie." After visiting the museum I went to the Salinas River, near the spot where the opening scenes of "Of Mice and Men" take place. Beautiful country.