Jason's Reviews > The Pastures of Heaven

The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck
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's review
Mar 27, 2010

really liked it
Read from March 27 to April 26, 2010

This is a collection of stories about morons. What i mean by that, is that everyone is engagingly simple, "good country people," and their amusement and fear is what makes this story tick. They are all good farmers, moral people without having the dredge of scripted morality, and finally adept to the understandings of both the simplicity of their environment as well as each other's characters. Simplicity drives them, and degardes all progression, for the better. Hence, the maybe unfair moniker of "morons."

The simplicity of such a place is made complex by the human interaction invading the utopian sort of feel of the Pastures. They act as children, never affected by the torrid greediness and moral destitution of desperate living. The crop always crops and the population never explodes, so the community stays simple and inclusive. So the conflicts they come across, though ordinary (sexual maturity, troubled economy, strangers coming into town, mysteriousness and haunted places); have the great effect of being outrageous, of being tantamount to the interest of the whole town--like the family that is first introduced to ice in One Hundred Years of Solitude, this community is continually amazed by what should easily be perceived as mundane. They are children, wonderful, vitally experiencing children:

They didn't make conversation; rather they let a seedling of thought sprout by itself, and then watched with wonder while it sent out branching limbs. They were surprised at the strange fruit their conversations bore, for they didn't direct their thinking, nor trellis nor trim it the way so many people do.

There on the the limb the three sat. Their clothes were rags and their hair was only hacked off to keep it out of their eyes. The men wore lnog, untrimmed beards. They watched the water-skaters on the surface of the pool below them, a pool which had been deepened by idling toes.

They are devoted, but without ambition. It's almost mechanical, the need for land, the need for interaction. I like this collection because it exhibits as much gracious life and sensual composure above rational thinking as animals should have. They are basically farmers out to pasture, children out to pasture, and they love each other as animals do, as urgent fellows compelled to one another by the susception of selection--they are a part of this herd, the Pastures of Heaven:

In his treatment of her, Shark was neither tender nor cruel. He governed her with the same gentle inflexibility he used on horses. Cruelty would have seemed to him as foolish as indulgence. He never talked to her as to human, never spoke of his hopes or thoughts or failures, of his paper wealth nor of the peach crop. Katherine would have been puzzled and worried if he had. Her life was sufficiently complicated without the added burden of another's thoughts and problems.

I especially like the story about the man who moves to the Pastures from the city, who has a profound interest in old histories like Herodotus and Thucydides and adventure stories like Treasure Island and wiles away the time reading by the banks of a river. He marries a woman with children and she becomes pregnant, then sickness kills everyone but the new baby. They allow the land to go wild and end up near starvation, but live freely, telling stories and experiencing life as lazy librarians and subdued hunters and gatherers. Then the boy is forced to go to school, and his modesty breaks the children's fear when they make fun of him and he merely does not understand, but rather laughs along with them. Then he is sort of made into a hero because of his mystery. I'm going to spoil the story by saying that eventually the school board declares he can't go to school in such shabby clothes so they present him with new ones. The embarassment makes him realize he is "poor" and ashamed for himself for letting the boy down, they move away, back to the city, much to the chagrin of the schoolteacher and the children who enjoyed their exceptional way of life.

the stories are tolled with such a rolled back, tilt of the head, lolling tongue, straight from a rocking chair; they are told with the panache of legend, history and forgotten relaxation. I like Steinbeck's books about conflict, but the ones simply about setting are absolutely attractive in their development. One or two of the stories don't really click and seem excessively dramatic. But those are the exceptions. In truth, he paints these people so well, so conductively; their images become memories. I am amazed by Steinbeck. He is such an artist.
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Reading Progress

03/27/2010 page 80
38.65% "all these morons are angels"

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Arthur "morons" ..really?

Jason i like the idea of morons as peaceful people whose only complications are the absurd, who miss out on the grating unfairness of life because they obsess over the trivial. it has negative connotation, but some of my favorite literary heros are morons, like Svejk the Good Soldier, Don Quixote and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. You have to understand how i describe them as morons, as playthings in their own lives.

Arthur Groovy ..that works..
cheers, A.

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