Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In a work so rich, there are many themes that John Steinbeck explores: for example, the Creoles’ mistreatment of the Indians, the cupidity of the Church, the survival and power of ancient religious beliefs behind a veneer of Christian rituals, the strength of the family unit in the face of adversity, the traditional view of women and the truth about feminine capabilities and understanding that it often conceals, humankind’s position in the universal scheme, the transcendental quality of tragedy, and the ambiguous nature of good and evil. Steinbeck explicitly wants the reader to view his story as a parable, that is, as a moral or religious lesson. In the foreword, he writes that the story contains “only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.” He continues, “If this story is a parable, perhaps everyone takes his own meaning from it and reads his own life into it.”
Like his good friend Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist with whom he first visited the Gulf of California in 1940, Steinbeck saw human beings teleologically as part of the animal order. At one point, he describes La Paz affirmatively as “a colonial animal.” Generally, however, it is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw” that Steinbeck portrays: “Out in the estuary a tight-woven school of small fishes glittered and broke water to escape a school of great fishes that drove in to eat them. . . . And the night mice crept about on the ground and the little night hawks hunted them silently.” Just so, Kino is physically attacked by a series of unknown assailants, while the brokers try to prey on his ignorance. In the mountains, he is hunted down by trackers described in canine terms. Kino “became curiously every man’s...
(The entire section is 731 words.)
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