• Madison White

A Story a Day #1: John Steinbeck



Over the past year, I’ve hit a bit of a writing slump. Most writers go through this and it isn’t uncommon for some to go years between productive periods. I think a large part of this slump is that I’ve been done with school for about a year and I don’t have anyone telling me when and what to write anymore. For some, this is freeing, but for an eternally desperate-to-please student like me, it just means that I’ve been a little bit lost.


While my main form of writing is poetry, I’ve become more and more interested in the forms of personal essay, non-fiction, and short stories. Because many of my poems follow a narrative arc, I often find that reading a good story can be a catalyst for creating a good poem. Plus, stories are a little bit easier for my mind to take on.


And so, I created a homework assignment for myself that will hopefully help me reconnect with my love of literature and learn more about the realm of the story. I pulled this doorstop of a book off my bedroom bookshelf. I don’t know when I got it, all I know is that I’ve never read it. After a quick skim through the table of contents, I realized I had read none of the “great” short stories of the world. Bear in mind, this was published in 1972 so these could be a bit biased and dated.


I created a plan. Read one short story per day and respond to it. Simple. It doesn’t need to be a full-blown analytic essay, but just my thoughts on what I liked or didn’t like, what it reminds me of, and how I might incorporate some elements into my writing. My goal is one per day so to get through the whole book will ideally take a little over a month. Of course, life gets in the way sometimes, but I’m hoping this blog will be my accountancy partner. Without further ado, let’s get on with it.


February 6th, 2020.

“The Leader of the People”

John Steinbeck


Steinbeck’s story mostly revolves around a young boy named Jody living on a ranch out West. Throughout, he is somewhat fixated on driving and beating mice out of an old haystack. When his grandfather comes to visit, he listens to his story about crossing the plains and fighting with the Indians. Jody never does drive out the mice. Near the end, his grandfather mourns that there is no place else for men to go, that every place has been explored.


I particularly like the setting of the story because I am fascinated by Western and Midwestern texts, especially those about farms. It reminds me of My Antonia which is also about a young boy on a farm. It feels a lot like a love letter to days gone by and seems to be mourning the new generation that doesn’t understand the hardship and glory of days passed. This seems particularly drawn out through the father who laments hearing the same stories over and over.


I think this commentary is everlasting and goes way beyond Steinbeck’s time. As everybody ages, they mourn for the days of their youth and glorify the way things used to be. It is a known phenomenon that many generations disapprove of the generation after them, whether they deem them soft or crude or ignorant. Some things never really change.

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