Steinbeck’s “The Leader of the People”: Dream and Reality
“The Leader of the People,” a short story from The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck, is mainly about Jody’s grandfather brief visit to the family farm. The only story the old man ever told was his adventures: fighting with the Indians, crossing the plains, and leading the people. His generation was like a spirited young boy, who desires to explore, discover, and grow. Unfortunately, his adventures came to an end when they reached the Pacific Ocean. It was his dream, and its fulfillment was his life. When he got the coast it was all over. All he has been able to do since is tell the story.
The theme that is portrayed throughout the story is that of the contrast between dream and reality. In the story, Grandfather cannot come to grasp that his dreams of the West and moving across the plains are over and that reality has set in.
The story is taking place at his daughter's farm, in the West after the exploration of frontiering period, near Old Town Salinas in California. It is a settled area and the threat of Indians and starvation is no longer present. They live on a farm with plenty of food and comfort in the place they live in. However, they trust the land and have lost the excitement of the West.
When Carl, Jody’s father, got the letter that his father-in-law is coming to visit, he became sick and annoyed. His wife became outraged with Carl’s anger and immaturity that he was showing toward her father, who she hardly ever sees. All this anger and annoyance coming from Carl, is a result from the stories that Grandfather continually shares with the family. Mrs. Tiflin explains, “Look at this way, Carl. That was the big thing in my father’s life. He led a wagon train clear across the plains to the coast, and when it was finished, his life was done. It was a big thing to do, but didn’t last long enough.” As Jody is listening outside under the opened kitchen window, she continues, “Look! It was as though...
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