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R O B E R T E. M O R S B E R G E R California State Polytechnic College In Defense of “Westering” In his recent article on Steinbeck’s “The Leader of the People” Donald E. Houghton offers some provocative insights about Jody and generations but is misleading in his interpretation of Grand­ father’s “westering.” Professor Houghton finds Grandfather’s ex­ planation of the meaning of “westering” to be “an unfortunate, confusing, and unnecessary digression which tears at the emotional and thematic unity of this story.” He finds the passage ambiguous and suggests that if it were cut out, the story would be tightened and “difficulties and confusions disappear.”1 Professor Houghton finds most of these “difficulties and con­ fusions” in the association of “westering” with Steinbeck’s recurrent treatment of “group man.” Grandfather does speak of the western movement as a “crawling beast,” an image used earlier in In Dubious Battle when the strikers smash through a barricade of police and vigilantes. In that context, Doc Burton’s reservations about group man, its savage, destructive power, are persuasive; but the context is quite different in “The Leader of the People.” Looking ahead to The Moon Is Down, Professor Houghton connects the “crawling beast” of wagon trains with the “herd men” who follow the Fuehrer, the ultimate leader of the people. Here is a serious confusion of contexts. While Hitler was in command of the Third Reich when “The Leader of the People” was published in 1938, World War II had not yet broken out; and it is hardly legitimate to find Steinbeck projecting forward from Grandfather’s talk of groups and leadership to the Nazi occu­ pation of Norway that had not yet occurred. But if one is to find analogies with The Moon Is Down, he should observe that the novel contains two groups and two kinds of leadership. In opposi­ tion to the “herd men” who conquer the country, the townspeople also act as a group, unregimented but spontaneously cooperating in resistance to terrorize and sabotage the invaders. Except for VDonald E. Houghton, “ ‘Westering’ in ‘Leader of the People,’” Western American Literature, IV (Summer, 1969), 124. 144 Western American Literature the Quisling, Corell, the free citizens act as one man. Corell’s re­ sponse is to advise the Nazis, “When we have killed the leaders, the rebellion will be broken.”2 The issue of leadership thus focuses not on the Fuehrer but on Mayor Orden, who insists that his people “don’t like to have others think for them,” that “authority is in the town” and not in any individual, and that he simply carries out the collective will of the community.3 His position echoes Grandfather’s when the latter says, “I was the leader, but if I hadn’t been there, someone else would have been the head.”4 The genuine leader for Steinbeck is not one who seeks or seizes power but one who represents the community. In Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck noted: “Non-teleological notion: that the people we call leaders are simply those who, at the given moment, are moving in the direction behind which will be found the greatest weight, and which represents a future mass movement.”5 This is the sort of leadership Grandfather had and the sort Emiliano Zapata acquires in Steinbeck’s screenplay Viva Zapata!, in which Zapata tells the campesinos shortly before his death, “About leaders. You’ve looked for leaders. For strong men without faults. There aren’t any. There are only men like yourselves. . . . There’s no leader but yourselves.”6 Though the Nazis do order Mayor Orden’s death in The Moon Is Down, Dr. Winter observes, “They think that just because they have only one leader and one head, we are all like that . . . . but we are a free people; we have as many heads as we have people, and in a time of need leaders pop up among us like mushrooms.”7 In The Moon Is Down, it is the benevolent, grandfatherly Mayor rather than the absent Fuehrer or the Nazi commander Colonel Lanser that Grandfather resembles. He is certainly not a power-mad individual; and he seems...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 143-146
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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