illustrated portrait of American author John Steinbeck

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How was Jody's grandfather the "leader of the people" in John Steinbeck's story?

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Jody's grandfather is the "leader of the people" in a very practical and concrete way.  Years ago, when people were making their way westward across North America via wagon train, Jody's grandfather led those wagon trains across the country.  A few times during the story, Jody's grandfather explains what a leader does and did during those "westering" times.  He then says on multiple occasions, "I was the leader."  Jody's grandfather explains a couple of times what being the leader involved.  In the most basic way, Jody's grandfather was the leader of the wagon train because he rode at the front and actually led the train in a particular direction.  However, that is not the only way that he led the wagon train.  He did more than just sit up front and guide a physical train of wagons.  He led through his actions and decisions about what needed to be done when and who should do it.  

I remember one time we ran out of meat . . . . That was the time for the leader to be on the watch. I was the leader, and I kept my eyes open. Know why? Well, just the minute the people began to get hungry they'd start slaughtering the team oxen. do you believe that? I've heard of parties that just ate up their draft cattle . . . . The leader of a party had to keep them from doing that.

In that regard, Jody's grandfather is similar to a town mayor.  He's making decisions about how the entire population should behave.  Additionally, he's not simply leading the group by giving people orders to do specific things.  When certain things aren't being done or not being done well, Jody's grandfather takes that responsibility upon himself.  He leads the front of the train, and he also leads from within by doing what needs to be done when nobody else is capable of doing it. 

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Grandfather was first and foremost a pioneer in his day West or like he says, "Westering". He had led a life of great events and major adventures. He was a person who looked ahead and forward back in his better days. Unfortunately , times changed and, according to Grandpa, people are not "Westering" anymore. 

Grandfather is old now, and in the story he tells over and over those tales from the past, and annoying everyone in his family.

 However, the importance that Jody gives his grandfather and the weight he puts on the grandfather's experiences is what automatically places grandfather as a "leader of the people"; a person who led a group into a new and unknown way of life without fear, and he motivated his fellow comrades to do the same. Along the way, he did things no other person would have dared to do. The feelings of leadership and adventure are shared by Jody and, given the situation in an unhappy family, it is his grandfather who makes it all make sense.

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