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GARY D. S C H M I D T Calvin College Steinbeck’s “Breakfast”:AReconsideration WhenJohn Steinbeck’s TheLong Valleywas published in 1938—-just ayear before The Grapes ofWrath—it received a mixed critical reception, even though it contained several short stories which eventually came to be recognized as some of Steinbeck’s masterpieces. The volume in­ cluded “The Chrysanthemums,” “Flight,” “The Snake,”and the three short stories that make up “The Red Pony.” Yet reviewers gave scant praise to these. Eda Walton, writing for The Nation, noted that Steinbeck’s “stories are competent, but reading them one goes through no authentic experience.”1Stanley Young, in the New York Times Book Review, wrote that all the stories have “a directness of impression that makes them glow with life, small-scale though it is.”2 And Clifton Fadiman, in The New Yorker, suggested that though some of the stories were beautifully written, “Mr. Steinbeck is tryingjust a mite too hard to be sensitive and Open to Beauty.”3 In choosing four of the best stories from the volume, Fadiman selected “The Chrysanthemums,” “The White Quail,” “The Harness,” and “Breakfast,”and in so doing he was the last critic for some time to nod akind head towards “Breakfast.”Since that time it has received little critical attention. One of the reasons for this might be its length; it is by far the shortest story in the collection, taking only four pages. And Steinbeck’s almost verbatim repetition of the tale in chapter twenty-two of The Grapes ofWrath seemed to imply that the earlier piece was a mere draft, a short scene which had no artistic integrity of its own but which needed a larger context. And so Peter Lisca has called it a “short sketch”and a “fragment.”1 JacksonJ. Benson refers to it as little more than a scene, though a “very moving and very real scene.”5When the editors of the Steinbeck Quarterly decided to devote part of their fifth volume to the stories of The Long Valley, no essay on “Breakfast”was included. Tetsumaro Hayashi’s ratio­ 304 WesternAmerican Literature nale for this was that “Breakfast”is “a comparatively insignificant piece and a rarely anthologized one.”6When Pascal Covici selected the story for the Viking Portable Library’s Steinbeck in 1943, he entitled the story simply “A Fragment”and introduced it as “one of many working notes for The Grapes ofWrath.’’1(It actually came out of research for In Dubious Battle.) But recently R.S. Hughes has argued that the work is a com­ pletely worked out, symmetrical “sketch”that finds its unity in the slow progression of the dawn.8 The literary criticism of this short story is correspondingly slight. James Hanby has suggested that “Breakfast”is a humanistic vision of the twenty-thirdpsalm, in which the SalinasValley becomes the Valleyof the Shadow of Death and the hospitality of the migrant family mirrors the hospitality of the Good Shepherd, a hospitality that Edwin M. Moseley has interpreted as a “ritual communion.”In hisJungian analysis of the story, Carroll Britch has seen the older man as a god-man, lord of the archetypal human family as well as the elements of the world. The narrator, Britch suggests, finds in the old man an unconscious projec­ tion of his own more primal tendencies. And most recently, John H. Timmerman has found the significance of the story in its emphasis on the family, pointing ahead to Steinbeck’s great theme of the family of man.9 Certainly “Breakfast”is not Steinbeck’smost important short story. And in many ways it is a simple scene, gathered from his walks around the migrant camps of the SalinasValley from the summer of 1934, when Steinbeck set out to experience first-hand what he would be writing about in In Dubious Battle. The narrator—apparently a migrant picker (but perhaps the writer?)—comes upon a small family on the side of the readjust before dawn. The young mother fixes hot biscuits and bacon while nursing her child. The father and grandfather come out of a tent and offer breakfast to the narrator. Dawn breaks as they finish and the two men invite the...


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