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Chapter 4 - Becoming Animal: Theories of Mind in The Red Pony

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 July 2021

Gavin Jones
Affiliation:
Stanford University, California
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Summary

Edmund Wilson’s famous critique that Steinbeck’s stories are “almost entirely about plants and animals” is tackled in this chapter, which argues that Steinbeck’s attention to the inner life of nonhuman animals represents a radical rethinking of humanity’s claims to privilege as a species. Focusing on Steinbeck’s representation of human and animal characters in The Red Pony--in particular his ascription of interiority to animals and his reduction of humans to pure behavior--I argue that Steinbeck’s work approaches a post-human ethical pluralism that defines humans according to their fallibility and cognitive deficits. However, Steinbeck’s exploration of the human-animal connection becomes more complex when we examine the relationship between the separate stories of The Red Pony, which interweave tales about animals with stories about the Western frontier. Once again, Steinbeck’s biological focus on humans as a species becomes caught up in problems of race that leave unchallenged a mythic ideology of the West, one that disguises the racial slaughter undergirding the animalistic emergence of white identity.

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Chapter
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Reclaiming John Steinbeck
Writing for the Future of Humanity
, pp. 73 - 88
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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