The Leader of the People Style and Technique

John Steinbeck

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although the message of “The Leader of the People” is complex, its story is simply told. Steinbeck fuses form and content so thoroughly that his narrative never seems strained. As in all the stories that make up The Red Pony, dozens of unobtrusive details are imbedded in “The Leader of the People.” The style is well suited to the story’s themes and subject matter; it uses vivid images and symbolism to convey profound meaning in such a way that the story is perceived as natural and appropriate to the ages and the personalities of its characters. Skillful word choices are especially notable. The hired man, Billy Buck, for example, speaks “ominously” to Jody about securing permission to kill mice in the haystack: He knows what a strict disciplinarian Carl is. Ruth “entangles” Carl in her “soft tone” when she tries to make him understand that when the “crossing” ended, so did her father’s life. Grandfather himself, however, can only convey this thought to the young Jody, when he expresses his feeling that the vibrant frontier spirit of his generation has died.

The Pacific Ocean and the physical setting of the Tiflin ranch are important symbols in this story. The ocean is a literal, physical “end” to the frontier, leaving no more land to discover or acquire. In contrast to its past history, the land occupied by the Tiflins no longer supports Indians and large game. In their place are such small animals as mice, snakes,...

(The entire section is 463 words.)