Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Unlikely Places

I've just started reading "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. I've never read it before, but I've heard it listed as one of the great American novels, so I thought I should know what it's about at least. The people in this book swear constantly and talk about inappropriate things alot. But I can't deny Steinbeck's talent as an author. Anyway, all that to say I read a quote about the mother in this book that grabbed my attention.
She looked out into the sunshine. Her full face was not soft; it was controlled, kindly. Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she ackowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.
I'm not sure that mothers in general are anywhere near that strong - I know that I'm not, although parts of it make me think my mom. It's a beautiful picture of a woman who has lost everything and has decided to keep moving anyway - for her family - and the "dignity and clean calm beauty" this brings a woman.

1 comment:

Chip Burkitt said...

I've never read it either. I've read a few other things by Steinbeck, though. Like any good novelist, he seeks to present the way things really are, so, yes, he depicts people swearing and talking about inappropriate things.

I've been reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. His is an awesome talent. He writes as a servant of humanity, seeking to excite some measure of pity for the poor and dispossessed. But if you decide to read it, be forewarned: the paperback edition I am reading is over 1500 pages, and a good deal of it is incomprehensible to me because it relies so heavily on a knowledge of 19th century french politics and history.