men, with kindly men. Every night relation-
ships that make a world, established; and every
morning the world torn down like a circus.
at first the families were timid in the
building and tumbling worlds, but gradu-
ally the technique of building worlds became
their technique. Then leaders emerged, then
laws were made, then codes came into be-
ing. and as the worlds moved westward, they
were more complete and better furnished,
for their builders were more experienced in
The families learned what rights must
be observed—the right of privacy in the tent;
the right to keep the past black, hidden in the
heart; the right to talk and to listen; the right
to refuse help or to accept, to offer help or to
decline it; the right of son to court and daugh-
ter to be courted; the right of the hungry to be
fed; the rights of the pregnant and the sick to
transcend all other rights.
and the families learned, although no
one told them, what rights are monstrous
and must be destroyed: the right to intrude
upon privacy, the right to be noisy while the
camp slept, the right of seduction or rape, the
right of adultery and theft and murder. These
rights were crushed, because the little worlds
could not exist for even a night with such
and as the worlds moved westward, rules
became laws, although no one told the families.
it is unlawful to foul near the camp; it is unlaw-
ful in any way to foul the drinking water; it is
unlawful to eat good rich food near one who is
hungry, unless he is asked to share.
and with the laws, the punishments—and
there were only two—a quick and murderous
fight or ostracism; and ostracism was the worst.
for if one broke the laws, his name and face
went with him, and he had no place in any
world, no matter where created.
in the worlds, social conduct became fixed
and rigid, so that a man must say “good morn-
ing” when asked for it, so that a man might have
a willing girl if he stayed with her, if he fathered
her children and protected them. But a man
might not have one girl one night and another
the next, for this would endanger the worlds.
God could not be everywhere and therefore he
made mothers. —Jewish proverb
developed in these nights. a man with food fed
a hungry man and thus insured himself against
hunger. and when a baby died, a pile of silver
coins grew at the door flap, for a baby must be
well buried, since it has had nothing else of life.
an old man may be left in a potter’s field, but
not a baby.
a certain physical pattern is needed for
the building of a world—water, a riverbank, a
stream, a spring, or even a faucet unguarded.
and there is needed enough flat land to pitch
the tents, a little brush or wood to build the
fires. if there is a garbage dump not too far off,
all the better, for there can be found equip-
ment—stovetops, a curved fender to shelter
the fire, and cans to cook in and to eat from.
and the worlds were built in the evening.
The people, moving in from the highways,
made them with their tents and their hearts
and their brains.
John Steinbeck, from The Grapes of Wrath.
After attending Stanford University off and on
between 1920 and 1926 and publishing three novels,
Steinbeck achieved success with tortilla flat in 1935.
He received a Pulitzer Prize for Grapes five years
later. Asked if he deserved to win the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1962, Steinbeck replied, “Frankly, no.”
In his acceptance speech he said, “ The writer is delegated
to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for
greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat,
for courage, compassion, and love.”