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I think that Steinbeck brings out some very interesting and compelling points about what it means to be American. In no way would he mean for this to be a definitive statement from a social scientist, yet what he does develop is meant to cause a level of reflection about what it means to be "American" and the paradoxes that accompany such a distinction. I think that one particular point that he makes is relevant because it is a central theme in his writing. Consider his point made about the paradox concerning Americans' sense of compassion:
Americans are remarkably kind and hospitable and open with both guests and strangers; and yet they will make a wide circle around the man dying on the pavement. Fortunes are spent getting cats out of trees and dogs out of sewer pipes; but a girl screaming for help in the street draws only slammed doors, closed windows, and silence.
The implications of this paradox are fairly profound because human cruelty is a major theme of Steinbeck's work. The same tendency that enables Steinbeck's characters to take people in and host others out of pure generosity in The Grapes of Wrath is the same tendency that enables the lynch mob to hunt down Lennie in Of Mice and Men. How there can be both tendencies within the American sense of character is something that Steinbeck examines in his own work. The paradox of offering care to strangers and to animals, but doing nothing when someone is in need of assistance is one that causes reflection and thought as to how action and apathy are so much a part of what it means to be "American."
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