“Breakfast” “A merry heart goes on all day The sad tires in a mile” (William Shakespeare) John Steinbeck, an American author and winner of the Nobel Prize, was a leading writer of novels about the working class and was a major spokesman for the victims of the Great Depression. Steinbeck is widely known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath and the novella Of Mice and Men. In the following short story, the author tells us about a poor, yet united family of cotton pickers who invited him in to share breakfast together.
The text presents a piece of first person narration interwoven with the descriptions of nature, short lines and character descriptions united into one complete logical part. Basing on the framing structure of the composition the reader can guess the the following story makes up a part of the author’s memoirs. The introductory part begins with his recalling of one of the warmest memories of his life. In the beginning, the reader pictures the author shivering with cold, standing in the middle of the deserted valley, as the surrounding nature is still asleep.
As the story unfolds, the author introduces us to the other characters – the girl and the two men, making the reader become the participant of their everyday life. Further the family members offer the author to breakfast together and out of kindness even offer him a job – that’s when the storyline reaches its’ culmination point. Finally, in the denouement we see the author – saying goodbye to this hospitable strangers. And as the narration rounds off, the reader once again returns to the author, diving deep into this pleasant memory.
It is also possible to draw a parallel between the storyline and the state of nature. At the very beginning, the author is alone and cold and it seems that the nature corresponds to his feelings – the surrounding atmosphere is dark and abandoned. However, when the daylight begins to break and shine brightly across the sky, the characters’ inner emotions fill in with human warmth and kindness. At the very end of the story as the nature fills with great beauty, so do the authors’ feelings. The portrayal of the personages in the following short story is very vivid and close to life.
We get the direct description of their appearance from the author, while their speech and behavior provide the readers with insight into their disposition. All the personages in the story are coupled: the girl and her baby, the older man and his son. The first character met by the author is the young girl and her newly born baby. We see a poorly dressed young woman, the author renders her image to us with the help of clear adjectives such as: faded cotton skirt, precise and practiced movements. Her life is filled with routine and concerns about the household, that she manages to take care of in a mastery fashion.
The author underlines it by using such a colorful epithet as: … light quick gracefulness of her movement. At first, the reader feels deep compassion for the girl, since she must be unhappy. In truth, as we find out later – she is quite happy with her life, she shows great pride for her man and is always eager to help her family. Judging by the girls’ actions, we can say that she is very kind, openhearted and naive. Her image is symbolic, not only does she represent cleanliness and purity of heart, she is also a symbol of warmth of the family’s hearth.
The characters of men, in their appearance are opposed to the one of the girl, their images stand for nobleness and fortitude. The author shapes their image by using such adjectives as: stiff beard, new blue, sharp-faced men, grey stubble beard. An interesting detail about the images of men is that the author does not tell us directly that the two men are related, instead he uses several parallel constructions to make us guess that this is father and son: … new blue dungarees… and in new dungaree coats; they were… and they looked; the younger had a dark stubble beard… he older had a grey stubble beard. Another feature is that they are men of few words, which shows us that they are truly the men of deeds. In the way all the characters are presented, we can say that the author feels deep sympathy for them. He sees them as simple, hospitable people, stating that though they are poor – they are morally strong. The author makes us feel their unity through the use of pronouns: we, they; numeral: both; and adverb: together. The color and light in the story can be called the supporting characters, since they accompany the main events of the story.
Plus they help to render the feeling of early morning and invite the reader to become part of the main events. Here the role of adjectives and epithets cannot be left out: the grey smoke; dancing reflections; orange fire; lavender grey of dawn; washed red; pure night ;reddish gleam. The narrator plays and interesting role in the story. First, he appears as an outside observer, but later he becomes the participant of the events. The narrator is a guide to the readers into the world of a simple working class family. By sharing the story with the readers he gives the feeling of intimacy.
The absence of actions in the story make it’s general mood quite neutral and slow. Several parallel constructions and repetitions also add to the feeling of monotony: spurted up… spurted out; they turned and saw/ they came to the stove/ they both smiled; we filled our plates/ we all ate quickly/ we threw the last little bit. The author’s purpose was to state that our satisfaction with life depends more on our attitude to it, rather than on the goods that we have or our social status. True happiness lies inside not outside. Those people had a simple life, but still they were morally strong and had a very positive attitude towards it.
Material things lose their value, while such thing as family can never be lost. I find this story to be didactic and morally rich. I like how Steinbeck teaches us not become the “slaves” of stereotypes and sees the “breadth of soul” in common people. Most people tend to criticize what they have instead of changing things like the following family. The author wants us to learn to look on the bright side of things and start to appreciate what we have. I support Steinbeck’s idea that real happiness in not always connected with comfort and convenience.