In "Leader of the People," what does the theme indicate about the relation between dreams and reality and the loss of the heroic ideal?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In John Steinbeck's "The Leader of the People," Jody Tifflin comes of age as he becomes aware of the feelings of others.  After breakfast as he and his grandfather sit on the porch, his grandfather deflates Jody's heroic dream of leading the people some day:

No place to go, Jody. Every place is taken. But that's not the worst-no, not the worst. Westering has died out of the people. Westering isn't a hunger any more. It's all done. Your father is right. It is finished."

Although the closing of the western frontier of America signified termination of "a spirit of possibility and a view of humankind as a vital moving force," as is symbolized with the doves, cats, and dogs of the ranch moving in circular patterns, Jody yet retains hope, unlike his father.  In this hope of consoling his grandfather, he goes to his mother and asks for a lemonade and for the first time it is not for himself.  His sympathy and sense of altruism suggest that, perhaps, a new heroic ideal can be achieved.  This time it may not be a physical one, but rather one of philosophical ideals such as empathy and fraternity with others, rather than alienation.


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