This classic piece of writing was composed in about 1961. It illuminated the United States in an idiosyncratic and charming way. Without being dogmatic, it looked at the social contradictions of the country. It also examined some of the diverse ways in which the American people were bound together. It is interesting to speculate how much things have changed since the great writer made his epic journey.
In those days, social cohesion in the United States was in part related to the Cold War. Having an external enemy was important in the governance of the people. While Steinbeck was not really radical in his later years, he did not hide from awkward truths. This piece of natural dialogue highlights how some ordinary people were aware of their manipulation:
“Why, I remember when people took out everything out on Mr. Roosevelt. Andy Larsen got red in the face about Roosevelt one time when his hens got the croup. Yes, sir,” he said with growing enthusiasm, “those Russians got quite a load to carry. Man has a fight with his wife, he belts the Russians.”
“Maybe everybody needs Russians. I’ll bet even in Russia they need Russians. Maybe they call it Americans.”