УДК 821.111 (73)


Степанова Ольга Викторовна
Удмуртский государственный университет
преподаватель английского языка, соискатель

Статья исследует литературные вопросы американской новеллы XX века, в частности, антиномию художественных образов в новелле Джона Стейнбека “Завтрак”. Дуалистическая природа новеллы обнаружена в рельефных образах света и тени, тепла и холода, востока и запада, молодости и старости, а также в поэтике цвета. Более того, исследование иллюстрирует автобиографическую основу новеллы.

Ключевые слова: биографический аспект, Джон Стейнбек, дуалистические образы, новелла XX века, поэтика цвета


Stepanova Olga Viktorovna
Udmurt State University
The Lecturer of English, Applicant

The article studies the literary questions of American XX century short story, in particular, the antinomy of poetic images in John Steinbeck’s “Breakfast”. The dualistic feature of the story is identified in expressional images of light and shade, heat and cold, the east and the west, youth and old age, as well as through the poetics of color. In addition the paper reveals the biographical basis of the story.

Keywords: biographic principle, color poetics, dualistic images, Steinbeck, XX century short story


Библиографическая ссылка на статью:
Степанова О.В. The dualistic and biographic bases of John Steinbeck’s «Breakfast» // Современные научные исследования и инновации. 2017. № 9 [Электронный ресурс]. URL: https://web.snauka.ru/issues/2017/09/84319 (дата обращения: 20.04.2021).

In Russian researches of John Steinbeck’s creative works the main subject of attention is firstly the poetic and esthetic features of famous novels and narratives, though the writer worked, apart from novels and narratives, in a short story genre – which is wrongly remain in the shadow of large genre forms. Researchers in a different degree cover an overall picture of life and creativity of Steinbeck, a number of researches concerns untraditional character and singularity of poetic heritage of the writer. Investigations devoted to the author’s short story genre are not numerous in Russian philology.

Steinbeck’s tendency to creation of antinomical images in the genre of short story was noted even earlier. The antinomy of natural and civilized, spiritual and material, individual and collective, is established in “The Harness” (1934) [1]. As we have found out, the dualistic interpretation of images is intensively remarkable in “The Snake” (1935): a man and a woman, the rest and alarm, a word and silence, the light and the dark, life and death, pleasant and disgusting. These dichotomizing images promote the identification of biological and psychoanalytic bases in the human [2].

The dual nature of images is also seen in the story titled “Breakfast” (1936). The contrasting images of morning and night, light and shade, the east and the west, heat and cold, youth and old age – are obvious in the story. The poetics of color has the same contrasting features here.

In criticism the story wasn’t normally paid enough attention. Critics mostly support the point of view given by Warren French: “’Breakfast’, the slightest of stories in The Long Valley, is nothing more than a sketch describing a family of cotton-pickers who share their simple meal with a stranger” [3, p. 81]. It should be reminded that the collection of stories “The Long Valley” was published in September, 1938. Still before “The Pastures of Heaven” appeared in the fall of 1932, Steinbeck began writing the first of fifteen stories collected in “The Long Valley”. By 1934 – the most productive year in Steinbeck’s genre of ‘short story’, – thirteen stories intended for this collection had been composed. By 1936 two more works including “Breakfast” had been completed.

Lewis Owens describes “Breakfast” as a story, “unrelated to Steinbeck’s thematic discussion”; and estimates the story along with another story of “The Long Valley”, “Saint Katy, the Virgin”, as “parts of a ‘patch-work’ volume that lacks unity and a center” [4, p. 108]. We don’t agree with this judging. In our view the story laconically integrates to the collection of the book, broadening its method and style.

The investigation of “Breakfast” poetics points, mainly, to brightness of its antinomy. The dualistic nature of images is first found out at the very beginning of the story, being expressed in impossibility, according to the story-teller, to explain the feelings which arose at him. The hero-narrator tells us about a fortuitous meeting which filled him with unforgettable warmth. And as the story-teller is “the consciousness bearer who is openly organizing the whole text by his personality” [5, p. 26], his words are conceptual for the whole story: “This thing fills me with pleasure. I don’t know why, I can see it in the smallest detail. I find myself recalling it again and again, <…> remembering brings the curious warm pleasure” [6, p. 89].

Joseph Fontenrose notes that in 1930 years it were the democratic tendencies in Steinbeck’s creativity that were getting more and more intensified: “He could get on well with all sorts of persons, and he discovered the genuine human qualities of humble people while working with them; he had no snobbery in him” [7, p. 3]. The writer also admits it: “I grew to love and admire the people who are so much stronger and braver and purer than I am” [Op. cit.: 8, p. 30].

Morning and night, east and west, heat and cold – are the first, presented in the story, and, in essence, the main oppositions of its dual nature, united by the narrator in color contrast: “It was very early in the morning. The eastern mountains were black-blue, but behind them the light stood up faintly colored at the mountain rims with a washed red, growing colder, greyer and darker as it went up and overhead until, at a place near the west, it merged with pure night” [6, p. 89]. For the story-teller red color is associated with heat, grey – with cold, and transition to the color of “pure night” strengthens the concept of cold which will repeatedly be mentioned in the story.

The warm feelings cast by memoirs of the incident are opposed to the natural morning cold shrouding the hero-teller: “And it was cold, not painfully so, but cold enough so that I rubbed my hands and shoved them deep into my pockets <…> Down in the valley where I was, the earth was that lavender grey of dawn” [Ibid.]. Here the color palette also aggravates the sense of cold. Dichotomizing heat and cold which are accented in the story, at the symbolical level, mean cosiness or discomfort, pleasant or uneasy, experienced by the lyrical hero.

Manifestation of the teller’s positive emotions is especially noticeable in the story. The casual meeting of the hero-teller with a family of seasonal workers evokes his positive feelings: “I was close now and I could smell frying bacon and baking bread, the warmest, pleasantest odors I know” [6, p. 90]. In the same manner the description of the breakfast calls up the pleasant feeling of warmth: “We all ate quickly, frantically, and refilled our plates and ate quickly again until we were full and warm” [6, p. 92]. Even though in the earlier scene the warmth paradoxically leads to discomfort forcing the story-teller to shiver: “I <…> shivered all over when the warmth struck me” [6, p. 90].

Other antinomical characteristics of the story are designated by the grey tent merging with the earth color and by flashes of orange fire lighting the tent; a grey smoke of an old rusty iron stove which “spurted up a long way” and dancing reflections thrown by the orange fire (for the second time grey – orange); the fast graceful movements of the woman and the baby who is quietly nursing; a dark stubble beard of the younger and grey stubble beard of the older; the faded cotton skirt of the young woman and new dungarees of men.

Through all narration of the story there stands out the image of the east: it is associated with morning, light, and mountains. It’s important to underline that the image of the east connects the dynamically depicted light poetics, the light being the symbol of hope and an open road, the sign of light-heartedness and carefully arranged future of the migrating workers:

“From the east the light grew swiftly” [Ibid.].

“They [the guy and the old man] stood, looking quietly at the lightening east, <….> and looked at the light on the hills rims” [6, p. 90];

“The two men faced the east and their faces were lighted by the dawn, and I looked up for a moment and saw the image of the mountain and the light coming over it reflected in the older man’s eyes” [6, p. 92];

The air was blazing with light at the eastern skyline” [Ibid.].

It’s worth noticing that men’s contemplation of east mountains, which is twice mentioned in the story, creates the effect of aspiration for something sublime, light, by all means the best, it tells us about purposiveness of the heroes.

The contrast images of nature delight the lyrical hero, admire him not only by external beauty, but also give rise to feeling of ‘great’, sincere beauty: “That’s all. I know, of course, some of the reasons why it was pleasant. But there was some element of great beauty there that makes the rush of warmth when I think of it” [Ibid.].

The hero-narrator and the author of the story seem to be one the whole, and this effect is supported by narration from the first person. Truly, the biographical basis is another typical feature of the story. It’s necessary to remind that Steinbeck spent summer of 1936 among the seasonal workers picking cotton in California. John Steinbeck was sincerely concerned about the destinies of simple people, sympathizing and responsive, kind-hearted and understanding. The perceptible pleasure of finding work by these people gave joyous feeling to the writer as well.

Claude-Edmond Magny argues that the hero of the scene is pregnant with a profound poetry that he cannot elucidate, that he cannot communicate to the reader; and the writer, conscious of having failed in his mission – which is exactly that of expressing the inexpressible, bringing to light and communicating the ineffable, – finishes his story with an awkward and embarrassed confession. Magny views the first Steinbeck’s attempt as failure, at the same time, eulogizing inclusion of this passage in “The Grapes of Wrath” as much more effective scene. Indeed, the episode with ’Breakfast’ is included in chapter twenty-two of a famous Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath” where, in effect, it is left without changes, except for a final scene, being basic in understanding the ideological and esthetic contents of the story for many critics.

Michael Meyer observes that Steinbeck’s brief and clipped portrait of the narrator suggests that he values the closeness and communication of family, but somehow at the same time “he seems outside the group – an isolate – whose speeches indicate a removal from society” [9, p. 34] (Italics – M. Meyer). Furthermore, according to Meyer, the lyrical hero’s sensitivity to his physical surroundings is in sharp contrast to his noninvolvement with work and his lack of reaction and conversation with the family. Our viewpoint is different, as we find the biographic basis here.

Meyer’s remark seems to be superficial and rather far from being the truth, as it doesn’t consider real prerequisites of the story emergence. Actually Steinbeck took great pain to help the distressed Americans, and at any opportunity joined the general work, in particular, during preparation of “The Grapes of Wrath” he went a long way together with immigrants from Oklahoma to California, and he participated in picking cotton, lived together with the migrating families. There is an important historical comment indicating it: “Steinbeck moved with the group of cotton pickers to the south, along the valley San Joaquin to the town of Bakersfield. <…> He spends some weeks among seasonal workers, lives in their tents and dugouts, works together with them at fields, eats with them…” [10, p. 79 – 80]. In 1936 Steinbeck will write articles about these experiences to The News and Nation.

As a result of our study we can argue that scientists don’t pay enough attention to the literary issues of dualistic and biographic principles in “Breakfast”. These features are important in understanding the whole poetics of Steinbeck’s short story genre, particularly, “The Long Valley”, highly evaluated by scientists: «Steinbeck’s finest and best-known stories appear in ‘The Long Valley’» [11, p. 84]. Besides, the offered investigation contributes to realizing the author’s world outlook in 1930s.

  1. Stepanova O.V. The Poetics of Images and Symbols in John Steinbeck’s “The Harness” [Pojetika obrazov i simvolov v novelle Dzhona Stejnbeka “Sbruja”] // Bulletin of Center for International Education of Moscow State University. – M.: Publishing house of Lomonosov Moscow State University, 2012. No 3. P. 102 – 106.
  2. Stepanova O.V. The Image Antinomy in Steinbeck’s “The Snake” [Antinomicheskie obrazy v novelle Dzhona Stejnbeka «Zmeja»] // “New in Modern Philology”: Materials of the XIII International Scientific and Practical conference. – M.: Publishing house “Sputnik +”, 2014. P. 4 – 7.
  3. French W. John Steinbeck. – New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc. University of Florida, 1961. 190 p.
  4. Owens L. John Steinbeck’s Re-Vision of America. – Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1985.    
  5. Korman B.O. Practicum in Studying of a Literary Work of Art [Praktikum po izucheniju hudozhestvennogo proizvedenija]. – Izhevsk, 2003. 88 p.
  6. Steinbeck J. Breakfast // Steinbeck J. The Long Valley. – New York: The Viking Press, 1938. P. 89 – 92.
  7. Fontenrose J. John Steinbeck. An Introduction and Interpretation. – New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1964. 150 p.
  8. Morsberger R.E. Steinbeck and Censorship // California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Journal Interdisciplinary Studies. Fall, 2003. Vol. 16. P. 29 – 34.
  9. Meyer M.J. “Symbols for the Wordlessness”: Steinbeck’s Silent Message in “Breakfast” // Steinbeck’s Short Stories in The Long Valley: Essays in Criticism / Edited by Tetsumaro Hayashi. 1991. No 15. P. 32 – 37.
  10. Baturin S.S. John Steinbeck and Traditions of the American Literature [Dzhon Stejnbek i tradicii amerikanskoj literatury]. – M.: [Hudozhestvennaja literatura], 1984. 351 p.
  11. Hughes R.S.,Jr. Steinbeck, the Short Story Writer // Steinbeck’s Short Stories in The Long Valley: Essays in Criticism. – 1991. Vol. 15. P. 78 – 89.

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