PART ONE: CIRCUMSTANCES BEHIND CONCEPTION OF THE RED PONY
Leading up to his writing of “The Gift,” the first of what became the “Jody” short story quartet, 30-year-old John Steinbeck was deluged by a series of career setbacks and family tragedies.
The bulk of the royalties guaranteed to him by contract from sales of his short story omnibus The Pastures of Heaven failed to materialize as the publisher went bankrupt (Benson 1984, 256). The income anticipated to support his wife Carol and himself until those royalties came in (through the sales of local interest stories to newspapers) never materialized, either, due to a disinclination by the presses to publish his work (Benson 1984, 256). Carol and John were reliant on loans from John Ernest, John’s father, which proved insufficient to cover rent, food, and utilities (Benson 1984, 257). Packing up their Chevy, they drove south along Highway 66: wherever they happened to be when their money ran out would be where they would stay. That turned out to be Laguna Beach, California; they rented a tiny shack with a paper roof for a few dollars a week. When Carol had finished typing out Steinbeck’s newest novel, To a God Unknown, there wasn’t enough money to cover the cost of postage.
On the heels of the sudden death and funeral of his nephew (Parini 1995, 124), Steinbeck’s mother Olive had a paralyzing stroke: she would be deprived of the entire left hand side of her body till her death the following year (Benson 1984, 261; Parini 1995, 134). John Ernest, debilitated and enfeebled by stress and concern, needed help (Benson 1984, 261). Without small children to uproot (as had Steinbeck’s sisters Beth, Esther, and Mary), John and his wife Carol rushed to his parents’ Salinas home to take up the responsibilities of primary caregivers (Benson 1984, 261; Ferrell 1986, 74-75)
Seven to eight hours each day at the hospital, Steinbeck was at his mother’s bedside (Benson 1984, 261). Her memory and concentration had lapsed; her power of speech was nearly gone. The most indomitable person in his life, his champion, his touchstone, had been made helpless, unable to care for herself (Benson 1984, 261).
When doctors gave up hope for Olive’s recovery, Steinbeck found emotional strength, solace, and escape in writing (Benson 1984, 284). Fearful of disturbing Olive, Steinbeck initially confined his writing to his parents’ house, writing in his childhood bedroom in the wee hours of the morning; later, he took up writing at the hospital whenever she was asleep. (Benson 1984, 261, 284; Parini 1995, 135). Several weeks later, her condition having stabilized, Olive was discharged and brought home; two live-in nurses were hired to assist with her care. When not attending to the house and yard, Steinbeck wrote at the dining room table just outside of Olive’s open door (Benson 1984, 263-264). When not temping in local offices to support the family, Carol did the cooking, cleaning, washing, and ironing (for the entire household as well as for the nurses), typed up her husband’s manuscripts, and provided primary care to her father-in-law (Ferrell 1986, 76; Parini 1995, 140).
Tensions rose within the home between John, Carol and John Ernest, who had by then developed numbness, loss of eyesight, and mental confusion (Parini 1995, 140). Though he seemed to appreciate her companionship, John Ernest refused to eat Carol’s cooking, took to shambling about the house at odd hours, insisted on listening to the radio at full blast, and began disturbing John’s writing for the purpose of glaring at him (Parini 1995, 140). When his condition improved enough, John Ernest resumed work as the county treasurer—but with reduced hours: an arrangement was made whereby Steinbeck filled in for him a certain number of hours each week (Benson 1984, 271). It was under these trying circumstances that the first two Jody stories, “The Gift,” and the “The Green Mountains”, were written by Steinbeck—contemporaneously with Tortilla Flat (Benson 1984, 276).
Completed at the end of summer 1933, Steinbeck submitted “The Gift,” and the “The Green Mountains” to Elizabeth Otis, his agent from the New York firm of McIntosh and Otis. By the autumn, Steinbeck received the much welcome news that Walton Alton DeWitt, the editor of the prestigious monthly periodical The North American Review, had purchased the publication rights to both stories for $90 (Benson 1985, 281). DeWitt featured “The Gift” in North American’s November, 1933 issue with “The Green Mountains” following in December (Schultz 2005, 176). In 1934, DeWitt purchased rights to three additional stories, paying Steinbeck nearly $120 (Benson 1984, 282). Sadly, the last two Jody stories, “The Promise” and “The Leader of the People,” which Steinbeck had completed that spring, were not among them.
In 1937, “The Promise” joined “The Gift” and “The Green Mountains” in a limited edition anthology published by the New York publishing house of Covici-Friede. Costing $10 a piece, each of the 699 numbered copies were signed by Steinbeck himself. Though many literary critics decried what was then an exorbitantly ludicrous price for the admittedly thin volume, The Red Pony (as the collection was entitled) had its champions. Christopher Morley of the Saturday Review, for instance, praised the “beauty and pain” and “illuminated simplicity” of the book, and Ralph Thompson in his column for the New York Times counseled those who could “afford a handsome sum” to have no qualms about purchasing a copy, for they would be “well rewarded” by owning the “little masterpiece” (Schultz 2005, 177). After the inclusion of “The Leader of the People” to the collection in 1938, The Red Pony was considered “magic” and “…almost miraculously good” (New York Herald Tribune), a “heart-breakingly true picture of childhood” (New Yorker) by a writer who had, according to the New York Herald Tribune, a “thoroughly realistic grasp of life in the child’s perspective (Schultz 2005, 177). The plot of an abandoned fifth “Jody” story can be fleshed out in Steinbeck’s journals: Jody and his mother share a genuine paranormal experience and the skeptical Carl Tiflin, being nothing but pragmatic, attempts to dismiss it with a rational explanation (Benson 1984, 285).
PART TWO: STORY ELEMENTS FOR ANALYSIS & DISCUSSION
*Motifs & themes underlying the “Jody” story quartet
The setting for each of the four stories is the Tiflin family ranch, located in the foothills of the Gabilan Mountains, which are in the central California counties of Monterey and San Benito. The mountain range is bordered at its west by the Salinas Valley and at its east, in part, by the San Andreas Fault.
The ranch is home to Mr. and Mrs. Carl Tiflin, their pre-teen son, Jody, hired hand Billy Buck, an antediluvian horse named Easter, a crazy mare named Nellie (whose death preserves her foal’s life), dogs Doubletree Mutt and Smasher, a bevy of unnamed cats, assorted cows (which, after being sold, pay for the purchase of the pony Gabilan), quail (a protected species), and mice (which are threatened with genocide by Jody).
The time is summer vacation. At the outset of each of the stories, Jody, the protagonist, is bored out of his mind; for the lack of anything better to do, he becomes a virtual “Jody the Terrible,” the scourge of wild and barnyard animals.
Suddenly, out of the blue, Jody receives an unexpected gift from his father, for which Jody will have to work—and work hard. He is given a constructive task to occupy his time (for which the animals, now reprieved, are grateful).
The sequence of events initiated by said gifts bring the pre-teen face-to-face with an adult concept. Among those which confronted Jody in his four adventures were: human fallibility, broken promises, remorse, loss, a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, being old, sexuality and reproduction, birth, death, sacrifice, suicide, and euthanasia.
*The only gift which Jody receives out of his father’s largesse is maturation and the bitter fruit of knowledge.
*An Examination of JODY TIFLIN
Jody was the only child of a poor rancher, and the only child inhabiting the ranch.
There is a general lack on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Tiflin of any outward expressions of love and warmth for Jody. The only instances in which all three were together as a family were at meals or whenever Tiflin, turning raconteur, demanded an audience. Neither parent interacted with Jody on a one-to-one basis in any form of play (though in “Leader of the People,” his mom helps him to make lemonade for her father).
Jody attended school. He was not overly popular with his classmates: they judged him as being quiet and cowardly.
Jody felt more at ease in the company of ranch-hand Billy Buck than that of his father’s: without feeling ashamed or embarrassed, Jody could ask Billy questions and (generally) received a truthful, nonjudgmental answer. Billy gauged his replies according to what Jody could understand and handle. Unlike Jody’s father, Billy didn’t lecture or pontificate to Jody.
There is no mention or illusion of Jody reading, drawing, or playing with toys outside of a slingshot (which is used to murder a bird), and an unloaded rifle (which he imagined firing at animals).
Generally, Jody performed the few chores that he had been assigned in a lackadaisical, shoddy manner (i.e. rather than filling the wood box to capacity he crossed the logs so as to give it the illusion of fullness; instead of searching through the grass and other possible hiding places Jody let chicken eggs pile up or be eaten by scavengers).
Jody’s father acknowledged that, had he so wanted, he could have occupied Jody with numerous other chores around the ranch which would have kept Jody busy from sunup to sundown.
Question: By not having done so, was Tiflin allowing Jody to occupy himself as he so chose, or might have he been motivated by another reason?
Jody had (or at least such was his mother’s opinion) a perpetually bad conscience.
To avoid self-incrimination, Jody had a habit to quickly forget whatever mischief he had committed because it was “impossible to know what action might later be construed as a crime.”
He preferred to include other people in his dastardly deeds so as to spread subsequent blame.
He regretted the bad things he committed, not out of remorse, but from fear of getting a bad reputation.
He coped with boredom and unhappiness by harming small animals.
On his way to school, Jody collected pieces of jagged stone and white quartz from the road and threw them at birds, rabbits, whatever creatures he happened to chance upon.
Whenever Jody walked past livestock—sheep, lambs, calves, ect.—they immediately “stopped their feeding and their play.”
Question: Presumably, whenever people animals trust (or, at the very least, consider harmless) are nearby, they are generally ignored: why then did Tiflin’s livestock collectively react to Jody like that? Did they have reason to fear him?
He threw rocks at his dog, Doubletree Mutt, and bated a rat trap with stale cheese knowing that the inquisitive dog would get his nose caught in it
He wrecked all of the birds’ nests he could find.
He murdered a thrush with a slingshot and severed its head, disemboweled its organs, and ripped its wings off.
He attacked the vulture he caught feeding off of Gabilan’s carcass with the intention of pulverizing it into mash.
He caught insects and reptiles, sealing them in his lunch bucket, for no other purpose than to catch them (he had no idea what, if anything, he was going to do with them all).
He would have hurled a stone at a cat had he been in time to do so before it reached safety.
He had gleefully beaten to death those mice who had survived the canine apocalypse
On the two occasions that he had he kept vigil with the ailing Gabilan, Jody fell asleep, thus enabling the pony to escape the barn and catch death from cold
Question: Does Jody have a predilection of violence towards animals? If so, do you believe it to be a passing phase, and that he will outgrow it as he matures, or is it indicative of a deeply ingrained psychological issue that is destined to become worse in adulthood?
*An Examination of CARL TIFLIN
Tiflin loathed, despised weakness, infirmity, and sickness.
Whenever someone became emotional, he promptly extricated himself from the scene.
Question: Was Tiflin driven to do that so as not to be nauseated by another’s self-humiliation, or was it perhaps, to shield himself from his own emotions?
Probed for people’s “soft spots” so as to know how to hurt their pride and self-esteem.
Question: Did Tiflin’s penchant for humiliating others arise out of sheer malice, or was it perhaps a defense mechanism with which he shielded himself?
Only when Tiflin was drunk was there a diminution in his reserve
When enraged, the resolute fury of Tiflin’s wife (only known throughout the story quartet as “Mrs. Tiflin”) struck him dumb: losing his swagger, he became as impotent as Jody (in fact, he would adopt his son’s sheepish, groveling tone of apology). Mrs. Tiflin was the only person who could question, challenge, or rebuke him with impunity. To assuage her rage, he humbled himself by eating his own words, “retracting” them with and in shame.
Tiflin could not, or would not, contemplate the life-experiences, viewpoints, perspectives, and traditions outside of his own.
Tiflin was disinterested in, disconnected from the history of the land: more than likely, he was of Henry Ford’s opinion that “History is bunk.”
Tiflin found the company of his father-in-law to be intolerable.
Question: Was Tiflin, in fact, demonstrating the same frustration towards his father-in-law’s storytelling that Jody had regarding his?
On his ranch, Tiflin was a sort of deity: he turned the lamps on at night, and off at day; he set meal times (to eat the food his wife had made); he established protocol in the interaction between himself, his family and the hired hands; regarding animals, he decreed their sale or slaughter; he allocated work; he bestowed pain (hard labor) or pleasure (rewards).
In “The Gift,” Steinbeck disclosed Tiflin’s soft spot for wild quail: he permitted their intermingling with his chickens, eating their feed, outlawed the discharging of firearms within their vicinity. Perhaps he respected them on account of their wildness and self-sufficiency.
In “The Great Mountains,” Easter, an old horse, is revealed to have been Tiflin’s first ever horse. Although he recognized Easter’s excruciating pain and debility, Tiflin refused to put him down.
Question: Was Tiflin’s prolonging of Easter’s life (which had become to Easter more torture than living) a sign of sentimentality?
Only in the fourth story, “The Leader of the People,” is Tiflin otherwise referred to than by his full name or as Mr. Tiflin. There, for the first time, Jody refers to him as father; conversing with Jody, Billy refers to him as “father.”
Question: Why, for so long, was he known only as Carl Tiflin or Mr. Tiflin? Was this a literary device to keep him aloof to readers?
PART THREE: GAINING CHARACTER INSIGHT – Carl Tiflin and his gifts to Jody
Steinbeck made it painfully clear that presents from Carl Tiflin “were given with reservations which hampered their value” Jody received a rifle as a present, but not the ammunition for it—he had to wait a full year for that Jody was gifted a pony but, being far too young, it could not be ridden until sometime later.
Jody was promised a colt that hadn’t been conceived yet.
Can you imagine the restlessness, anxiety, torture, and resentment that these “gifts” could potentially create inside Jody?
Is it a form of torture to gift a pony to a youngster and forbid him or her to ride it, until some ill-defined time in the future?
Is it beyond a child’s endurance to be promised a colt—to have him or her work for it, performing back-breaking labor, day-in-and-day out, for an entire summer till school resumed—although it hadn’t yet been conceived, and when it was, would take nearly a year to be born and then an additional two years before it could be saddled?
Is it not like gifting a child a battery-operated toy but not making the batteries available till the following Christmas, or gifting a Gameboy but waiting till the following birthday to provide the necessary TV or computer?
Outside of (possibly) being taught the virtue of patience, how might Jody have benefited from his father’s gift-giving (if at all)? How could Tiflin’s approach have backfired?
“The Gift:” Carl Tiflin, Jody, and GABILAN
Question: Was Gabilan the right sort of pony for a beginner like Jody?
What cannot be argued about Gabilan was that he was very, very young, unbroken, and wouldn’t be ready to carry a rider for quite a while.
Gabilan had either been taken from his dame and sire, or was an orphan. We are told that his “coat was rough and thick as an Airedale’s fur and [his] mane was long and tangled.” Thus, it can be inferred that Gabilan had been neglected, possibly even abused, over an extensive period of time. He more than likely lacked sufficient food, care (of various kinds), and treatment.
Resentment over his neglect and apparent antipathy towards people explained why there existed “…a light of disobedience was in [his] eyes.” Having seen it, it was so frightening to Jody that he couldn’t bear to look Gabilan eye-to-eye again. Outward signs of Gabilan’s disobedience or anti-social behavior manifested themselves in his biting Jody’s hand or backside, and occasionally kicking him just for the heck of it.
Gabilan had belonged to an insolvent show impresario whose effects were auctioned/liquidated off by a sheriff to satisfy creditors. His asking price was so low that impecunious Carl Tiflin could buy him.
Question: Generally, ponies tremendously expensive, and sold at much steeper prices than Carl Tiflin could afford? Being that so little had been asked for Gabilan, was it perhaps an implicit acknowledgment by the creditors’ that all was not well with him?
To top it off, the show saddle which Carl Tiflin bought was unsuitable and impractical. Even if Jody could ride Gabilan, the hindrances imposed by the wrong saddle would negate a lot of activities.
Reflection: Was Gabilan’s death not ironic on account that the money to purchase him was obtained by selling animals (cows) for slaughter?
“The Promise:” Carl Tiflin, Jody, and NELLIE and HER COLT
Carl Tiflin regarded Nellie as “crazy as a coot.” She was uncommonly nervous, naughty, and malicious in that she bit for pleasure. Her eyes (“…glazed and mad”) seethed with maniacal rage. Her teeth were yellow.
Question: If an experienced rancher like Tiflin was wary of Nellie, was it a brilliant idea to place her in the custody of an inexperienced pre-teen? Was it even logical to get such a horse pregnant?
Carl Tiflin paid $5.00 in stud fees to have his mare, Nellie, impregnated by Sundog, a neighbor’s stallion—who was, at least, just as crazy as she was. The colt would become Jody’s—provided that he work off the $5.00 by working the entire summer, without complaining, forgetting, or being slapdash.
Question: What might have been the likelihood of the colt being as unsettled as its dame and sire?
After inception, it would take at least five months before Nellie would show even the slightest hint of being pregnant; the birth itself wouldn’t occur until at least eight months thereafter. Even after the colt was birthed—if it lived—it couldn’t be saddled until it had turned at least two-years old
On top of everything, there was a tremendous risk that Nellie’s colt would be a stallion: Tiflin would have no choice but to sell it as stallions did nothing but make trouble and fight.
Single-handedly, Jody had to walk Nellie uphill for more than an hour to the neighbor’s farm; she skittered and jerked to get free the entire time. She could have killed Jody.
PART FOUR: JODY TIFLIN–A KNIGHT IN THE MAKING?
In hindsight, Jody’s experience with Gabilan in “The Gift” (whose hair was as red as the color of blood) initiated for him an unconscious and unanticipated journey towards knighthood which ran throughout all four stories. Having failed his ordeal in “The Gift,” Jody was forced to undergo additional trials till triumphing in the last story, “The Leader of the People.” In that story, Jody’s achievement is represented the understanding and commiseration he demonstrated towards his maternal grandfather. He attempted to redress his father’s cruelty by making the old man feel wanted, needed, and at home. Unlike his father, Jody recognized and sympathized with his grandfather’s loss of identity, purpose, and hope.
At breakfast on the morning of “The Gift,” Jody encountered blood on his egg yolk. His future ordeal was presaged by the dichotomous yet symbiotic relationship between life and death.
After breakfast, his sixth sense alerted him of the immediacy of a life-altering experience: “He felt an uncertainty in the air, a feeling of change and of loss and of the gain of new and un-familiar things.”
Jody sequestered himself in the isolation of the barn for the purpose of keeping vigil at the side of ailing Gabilan. Medieval candidates for knighthood kept vigils to prove their mastery over the needs of their flesh and bodies to purify their spirits. Having fallen asleep, Jody, the prospective knight, has allowed his king (Gabilan) to become victimized—to be exposed to the elements and, ultimately, catch his death.
On two occasions, Jody witnessed surgeries performed by Billy Buck to preserve Gabilan’s life. The blood spilled during those operations could represent strength, power, and fertility, the life-giving substance which knights offer up in sacrifice to their lord or lady.
Jody, in attacking the buzzard, spilled the blood of another living creature (a lifer form other than insects, reptiles, and small mammals). To protect the innocents placed under their charge, knights had, if necessary, to take life or to sacrifice their own. In taking the life of the buzzard, Jody protected the sanctity of his horse’s (his liege’s) reposed body. However, in doing so, Jody acted contrary to knightly mores: the buzzard, not having been instrumental in Gabilan’s death, was an innocent.
PART FIVE: SYMBOLISM
Sagebrush line: Throughout the quartet, there are frequent references to the sagebrush line: it served as the line of demarcation separating the ranch from the surrounding wilderness, dividing the stale, known world from the unsullied world, the place of safety from the place of death.
Question: What was the significance of this place to Jody?
Possible Answer: The pipe offering the Earth’s life giving water was situated there. Whenever Jody needed solitude, or to quiet his soul after a harrowing ordeal, or when he was punished, he went there to lay down on the grass and behold the clouds and Gabilan Mountains. Close by the Eden of the sagebrush line was the singletree on which the pigs were hung to be butchered, and the black kettle into which they were subsequently dropped to have their fat scalded away.
Jody’s mouth: Either consciously or unconsciously, Jody is described as moving his mouth and lips in seemingly peculiar ways. In “The Gift,” he was described as having “a mouth that worked when he thought.” In “The Great Mountains,” Jody’s “mouth worked strenuously” while taking aim at a bird with his sling shot.
Question: What, if anything, is being signified?
Gitano’s rapier: In “The Green Mountains,” Gitano’s Spanish rapier had been passed down as an heirloom from one generation to the next. More than likely it had once been utilized by a conquistador to subdue and subject Gitano’s countrymen into slavery. In Gitano’s hands, it acted as a liberator—his liberator from life. Even so, considering its provenance, it perpetuated the cycle of violence against his people.
Mountains: Jody’s fascination with the Gabilan Mountains is referenced throughout the stories.
Question: What might the significance of mountains be to Jody?
Possible Answer: In the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, the prophet, liberator, and leader Moses received the Ten Commandments directly from God at the top of Mount Sinai. Olympus, the home of deities in Greek mythology, was situated atop the highest peak in Greece. In the New Testament of the Holy Bible, Christ gave His first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, on the southern slopes of the mountainous Korazim Plateau; a site put forward as the location of the Transfiguration is Mount Thabor, in Lower Galilee, elevation 1,886 feet; the Mount of Olives, 2,719 feet high, is by tradition the site of the Ascension. Monks from various faiths and religions live in monasteries that are so precariously and inaccessibly perched as to be accessible solely by basket via a winch; perhaps the most famous of these is the Great Meteoron Monastery (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Thessaly, Greece.
Blood: Many times throughout the four stories blood is either present or alluded to via symbolism. There was blood on the egg yolk; Gabilan’s hair was red (his death foreshadowed?); when Sundog bit Nellie’s neck, blood emerged from her wounds (signifying the loss of virginity?); the hair of Nellie’s colt was drenched in blood at its birth (death makes new life possible?)
PART SIX: RESPONSIBILITY FOR GABILAN’s EARLY DEATH
The decision to leave Galiban out in the open, in the coral, over the course of that morning and early afternoon was Jody’s: for all intents and purposes, Jody was Gabilan’s dad, and his responsibility towards it was essentially the same as a parent’s for a child. Jody demanded to be entrusted with Gabilan’s care, promising his total commitment and attention. On account of his youth, inexperience, and immaturity, Jody was unable to deliver on his promises.
Yes, when he asked for Billy’s opinion, Billy did support it by saying that after being cooped up in the barn for so long it would be good for Galiban to get out for exercise and play, and that in the unlikely occurrence of rain he would be at hand to take Gabilan back in. It was just bad luck that he and Carl Tiflin got held up at Ben Herche’s place and the rain didn’t stop till late.
Immediately upon seeing Billy when he returned, Jody made it clear that he blamed him for Gabilan’s catching cold; in an instant, he had shifted the burden of responsibility for what had happened and its ultimate outcome entirely on Billy. Even though Jody reproached and accused him unjustly Billy accepted the blame and in no way tried to defend himself: knowing what we do about their relationship, it would be in keeping with Billy’s character to have recognized that there was absolutely no way, shape, or form in which Jody could have assume the responsibility himself and live with it. As an act of mercy, Billy accepted the weighty burden for Jody.
On two successive occasions, while keeping vigil beside Gabilan, Jody fell sound asleep and Gabilan nudged his way out of the barn and outside.
Though responsibility for Gabilan getting wet the first time is arguable, the fault for letting his illness get out of control was clearly Jody’s. His failure to keep night watch resulted in Gabilan’s death.
Jody’s reaction to Gabilan taking sick:
Jody became incensed that his pony (rare, precious) was dying and that Doubletree Mutt, a dog, a comparatively common animal, was full of vim and vinegar. To punish the dog for being healthy, Jody struck its paw with a hard clod that caused enough damage as to bruise it. Later having repented of his violence, Jody hugged and kissed Doubletree Mutt.
Jody’s reaction to Gabilan’s death:
Jody fought the buzzard (think VULTURE) he saw feeding off of the pony’s corpse. Despite the two of them being nearly matched in size and weight, Jody was intent not only on murdering the buzzard but pulverizing it out of existence.
Steinbeck clashed Jody’s frenzied, homicidal state to the buzzard’s “impersonal, unafraid, detached” insouciance: Steinbeck implied that the “calm, fearless, and fierce,” buzzard struggled to liberate itself and did no more to Jody beyond what was necessary to achieve it by non-lethal means:
With a wing, the buzzard smashed Jody in the face hoping the club-like impact would suffice. When that didn’t work, the buzzard tightened its claws around one of Jody’s legs and battered him repeatedly on both sides of his head with its wing elbows to knock some sense into him. When Jody still couldn’t take a hint, the buzzard regurgitated and vomited a stream of purified fluid hoping it’s yuck factor would induce Jody to give it a rest. He didn’t.
PART SEVEN: BILLY BUCK–FATHER FIGURE?
Billy was patient with Jody, never begrudging him his time or his help
Jody felt comfortable, relaxed and at ease with Billy
Jody knew that he could ask Billy almost any question—in confidence—and not feel embarrassed, ashamed, or worried. When not brushing them aside and ignoring them, Carl Tiflin regarded Jody’s questions as exasperating and discourteous.
In whatever he said to Jody, Billy framed and structured it according to how he sensed Jody was feeling and what he gauged Jody could understand. Carl Tiflin lectured Jody as would a teacher who was a complete stranger and had only minimal interest in Jody’s welfare.
Billy saw no reason to be uncomfortable with or insensitive to the emotions of others.
Billy praised Jody to Tiflin, and even defended his interests to Tiflin
Jody was confident that Billy wouldn’t try to deceive him about anything
Jody had complete faith in Billy. However, in “The Gift,” Billy’s prognostications were repeatedly proven wrong. He was wrong about it not raining; he was wrong about Gabilan not catching cold; Gabilan’s illness was far worse than the cold he had diagnosed. In “The Promise,” having failed and lost prestige in Jody’s eyes, Billy began replying to him with caution, discretion, and evasion: “I can’t tell …”, “All sorts of things might happen …”, “I can’t do everything.” His fear and uncertainty forced Jody to countenance the possibility of death.
PART EIGHT: DOGS DOUBLETREE MUTT & SMASHER
Examining the personalities and behaviors of household pets to gain insight about their owners
It has been theorized that, over time, pets gradually adopt the personality traits and temperament of their human co-habitants. Thus, theoretically, a stranger can get an indication of what life might be like in a given household with a pet by observing the pet’s personality and behavior. Examining the behaviors of Doubletree Mutt and Smasher could provide clues as to the prevailing emotional disposition of the Tiflin household.
When Steinbeck introduced the dogs, they were in the process of bumping into Jody on one particular morning. The manner in which Steinbeck describes the interaction between the three is suspiciously unconventional. Rather than an occasion of jubilant, playful bonhomie, with happy barks, waging tails, head scratches and tummy rubs, Steinbeck casts it an aura of violence: The dogs were “grinning horribly with pleasure” – if they were “grinning horribly,” what kind of pleasure did it token? Though it appears to be a dichotomy, Steinbeck seems to want us not to get too friendly and attached to the canines.
Doubletree Mutt had yellow eyes. Yellow eyes. Though many positive attributes and qualities have come to be associated with the color yellow, there are an equal number of negative ones, too: jealously, cowardice, cunning, defensiveness, rigidity, possessiveness.
Question: Ignoring the health factors that contribute to the yellowing of the eyes (an inordinately high level of bilirubin in the bloodstream), should Steinbeck want us to remember that the eyes are the window to the soul, what sort of a soul is indicated by yellow eyes?
The dogs hunched their shoulders. Visually depicted, the dogs’ noses are down to the ground and their shoulders are above their heads. Psychologists studying posture and body language have seen a correlation between hunched shoulders and a projection of laziness, indecisiveness, and passivity.
Question: The dogs’ reception of Jody is described as frenzied. Why frenzied? How would you describe a frenzied greeting?
PART NINE: ASSESSING WHAT JUDY HAS LEARNED
“The Gift:” There are limits to humanity’s inventiveness: there are forces it cannot control, master, or dictate to; death is as much a part of life as living; there are many facets and cycles to Nature; accountability comes with personal responsibility; stewardship over living creatures is a 24/7 job
“The Great Mountains:” With regard to life (that of people and animals), Jody had to evaluate opposing philosophies: did he believe, with Billy Buck, that “They got a right to rest after they worked all their life,” or was his father, who endorsed euthanasia (and, by extension, suicide)— “…one big pain … and that’s all …”—the more insightful?
“The Promise:” Occasionally, decisions, even those of life and death, must be made not from the heart but from practicality, not restricted to the one but to the benefit of many (a young, fit mare [which is expensive] can conceive additional foals).
“Leader of the People:” The generation represented by Jody’s grandfather had an inner drive to explore, to go westward, to break with the past and create a future in an unspoiled Eden: the generation represented by Jody’s parents felt a call to set down roots. Now, for Jody’s generation, the Earth was less vast; reaching the Pacific coast had brought an end to the west for his grandfather’s generation, and the hunger, the need to explore was not felt by his daughter’s. It would be futile for Jody’s generation to rekindle it: “No place to go … Every place is taken.” For the first time in any of the stories, Jody, in his pursuit of a lemonade for his grandfather, acted upon a need to help others.
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