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John Steinbeck's Life - Essay Example

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[Author’s Name] Natural Environment in Steinbeck’s Fingers of Cloud To pursue absolutes in the spirit of criticism is always dangerous (and often a mistake), but it seems safe to say that of all twentieth century American writers, John Steinbeck most embraced, cherished, and understood the natural environment…
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John Steinbecks Life
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"John Steinbeck's Life"

Download file to see previous pages Published in the Stanford Spectator, a student enterprise, "Fingers of Cloud" seems out of place within its own deceptively-titled context, and, indeed, has been out of place, beyond the pens of Steinbeck critics, for over eighty years. Only Hughes and Timmerman have ventured more than the obligatory sentence or two that Steinbeck's biographers have deigned to scribe and share. Hughes's most helpful contribution is re-stating Thomas Kiernan's biographical information concerning Steinbeck's job as straw-boss on the Spreckels sugar-beet ranch in January 1921 (Hughes 4-5), which is likely the basis for some of the content in "Fingers of Cloud"; Timmerman's is noting the "mysterious pull of the mountains upon the human spirit" in the story, which "would surface in later works of Steinbeck's," and insisting, incorrectly, that Steinbeck's initial offering is "clearly inferior" when compared with "the later Steinbeck canon" (Timmerman 11, 22). Regardless of the opinions regarding the source and worth of "Fingers and Cloud," ecocriticism of Steinbeck's first story, as well as its place within Steinbeck's overall environmental context, have never been attempted. "Fingers of Cloud" is brief, only five pages long. In the story a young orphaned woman named Gertie appears, sweeping the floors of her house, singing gaily to herself. Steinbeck describes Gertie's "flat, pink face," her "benign smile," her "hair, as white as a washed sheep's wool and nearly as curly," and her "pink eyes" (160). In the span of only a few pages, Gertie ascends a mountain; gets caught in a rainstorm; barges into a Filipino labor camp; meets, seduces, and is seduced by Pedro, the boss; is married to him the following day; sets up house within the labor camp; gets beaten for days after; realizes and makes realized her whiteness and her new husband's blackness; and then, finally, re-­ascends the mountain after apparently leaving Pedro, for good, behind. In terms of characterization, setting, and dialogue, "Fingers of Cloud" offers tantalizing tastes of Steinbeck's style--a style that would allow Steinbeck to begin realizing his deepest wish, and a style that would cement his status as American's finest twentieth century American writer. Steinbeck's first character, Gertie, disregards her worldly duties, embracing instead the brilliant mystery of tall mountains and bright skies. At the story's opener, Gertie chants to herself, "Don't have to sweep no more--don't have to wash no more--don't have to do absolutely nothin'--no more" (160), repeating the last two words for extra effect. With her parents absent, and the family home now her own, the naive Gertie is well aware of her newfound freedom but does not yet realize how an absence of human connections will negatively impact her life, which comes into play later in Steinbeck's story. It is as if, with her mother and father gone, Gertie's purpose departs; and though her life may now be carefree, an emptiness still remains. Thus, Gertie decides to leave behind her neighborhood--which is a monotonous collection of "houses and fences and grass plots" followed immediately by "new houses and fences and grass plots" (160)--and instead succumbs to the pull of the wild from the top of a mountain. Interestingly enough, upon ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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