From “I” to “We”

From John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, set in the Dust Bowl/Great Depression years in the US:

One man, one family driven from the land; this rusty car creaking along the highway to the west. I lost my land, a single tractor took my land. I am alone and I am bewildered. And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep those two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. Here is the anlage of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. For here “I lost my land” is changed; a cell is split and from its splitting grows the thing you hate—”We lost our land.” The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one. And from this first “we” there grows a still more dangerous thing: “I have little food” plus “I have none.” If from this problem the sum is “We have a little food,” the thing is on its way, the movement has direction. Only a little multiplication now, and this land, this tractor are ours. The two men squatting in a ditch, the little fire, the side-meat stewing in a single pot, the silent, stone-eyed women; behind, the children listening with their souls to words their minds do not understand. The night draws down. The baby has a cold. Here, take this blanket. It’s wool. It was my mother’s blanket—take it for the baby. This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning—from “I” to “we.”

If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into “I,” and cuts you off forever from the “we.”

(from the Steinbeck Centennial Edition of The Grapes of Wrath, 2002, pp. 151-2)

7 thoughts on “From “I” to “We”

  1. Toni

    I wonder what you were trying to say through this post? I’ve come back & re-read it a few times, seem lots of potential things, but none that were firm enough to debate over.

  2. Marc

    Just thought it was an interesting insight into wealth, possessions, and relationship between humans. I am always fascinated/troubled by the fact that humans in a corporate/business setting can be so un-human.

    Not meant to rouse debate. Just sharing.

    (Is that the impression I give on the blog? That everything is set up for a debate?)

  3. Toni

    “Is that the impression I give on the blog? That everything is set up for a debate?”

    Not especially, but I tend to look for conversation in blogposts and was trying to find a way in/see what you were saying. For me, it’s about the conversation as much as anything, hence why I might try to start discussing where you might just mean to say “this is what I saw and it looked interesting”.

  4. Marc

    True enough. Blogging is for me about conversation as well. I guess “debate” is not, in my mind, the same thing. 🙂

  5. Toni

    I’m wondering about a series of ‘tertl.[edited by site administrator].com style posts to see if I can kickstart people talking over there. 😉

  6. Linea

    Nice to get in on your conversation. If it was a debate I suppose I wouldn’t be able to justify the time but listening in on conversations is always fun. 🙂

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