How do the weather and the seasons represent things in the story? For example, late summer, winter, and spring. What does the weather symbolize, and how does it connect with narrative?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Frequently, authors employ the literary device of pathetic fallacy in which nature is used to create atmosphere or the tone of the narrative. Steinbeck certainly uses this literary technique; even his title carries significance as a line from Act II, Scene 1 of Macbeth in which Banquo and his son meet Macbeth as he is about to murder King Duncan. Banquo ask his son "How goes the night, boy?" and his son replies, "The moon is down, I have not heard the clock," a line that suggests the dark events to come.

  • In Chapter 2, as the invaders look out the window and watch the coal being loaded, they can see the fishing boats anchored in the bay, "and they could smell the drying fish on the beach, right through the window." This smell of the fish on the beach suggests the smell of death to come.
  • In Chapter 3, after the protesting miner kills Colonel Bentick, "it was a gray day outside and frost was in the air" as the military invaders hold a trial and execute the miner, Alex Morden, and the war with the village escalates. Before this occurs, Molly Morden comes into the mayor's office and asks if the mayor will sentence her husband; Mayor Orden replies that he will not be the one to cast any sentence. In a reflection of the atmosphere of the narrtive, Molly comments on the weather:

"The girl looked up, for the room had suddenly darkened, and she seemed to be afraid.  'It's a cloud,' she said.  'There's word snow is on the way, and it's early, too.'  Doctor Winter went to the window and squinted up at the sky, and he said, 'Yes, it's a big cloud; maybe it will pass over.'"

  • In Chapter 4, Steinbeck writes, "By eleven o'clock the snow was falling heavily in big, soft puffs and the sky was not visible at all." This is the day of Alex Morden's trial and he is condemned to die. Like the clouded sky which is not visible, justice is covered with the wrongs of war. Colonel Lancer orders his men to confiscate all the guns in the village when a shot is fired at his soldiers; he tells them to follow the footprints in the snow.
  • In Chapter 5, "The snow fell and melted and fell and melted and finally fell and stuck." This reflects the feelings of the people against those who betrayed the village. They believed that the regime offered a better state and a new way of life; the villagers stare with ice and snow in their eyes. (pathetic fallacy). Like the cold weather and the snow, the people are cold and sullen if the soldiers come near their fires or into the restaurants. The food is over-salted or over-peppered when it is brought out to the soldiers. At one point, the Mayor reflects upon "the sweet smell" of the snow, perhaps presaging the purifying qualities of it. Also, this remark could be foreshadowing how the snow acts as a cover for the dynamite.
  • "Now with the heavy snow on the roof, I believe it.  And in the loneliness before daybreak, in the half-warmed bed, I know it then," Molly says in Chapter 6 of her loss and her life. Then, Will and Tom Anders with Mayor Orden knock on Molly Morden's door; she is to signal for them as they try capture Cordell, the traitor, and put him out to sea.
  • In Chapter 7 on a dark, clear night "a white, half-withered moon brought little light." There is a dry wind, quiet but steady. The snow is as deep as sand, and "the houses snuggled down in the hollows of banked snow, and their windows were dark and shuttered against the cold, and only a little smoke rose from the banked fires." This description connects with the narrative of the citizens' being much more clandestine, and they are silent in their hatred for the enemy. Their resistance is growing. 

"It was a dark day now, overcast with clouds, for the dawn god brought the heavy snow clouds."

  • In Chapter 8, the snow acts as a blanket, covering the dynamite; later, bridges and railroads are blown up with the dynamite; the mayor and Dr. Winters, along with other men are taken to their deaths. Then, even more explosions, this time at the mines.
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