The Leader Of The People by John Steinbeck, 1937
The magic trick:
Showing a boy find his own path toward making the mature decision, even as the adults around him fail to provide a proper example
This is a very American story, so it seems a fitting way to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Jody, the young boy at the heart of the Red Pony stories is pulled a lot of different ways by the adults in his life. Some good. Some maybe not so good. We watch he learns mostly from disappointment and heartache. In “The Leader Of The People,” we see him take his own route toward maturity. He isn’t simply deferential like Billy Buck. He isn’t placating like his mother. He certainly isn’t selfish and hurtful like his father. He manages to find his own path of respectful without condescension. It’s a simple story, really, but it’s rare to see a child put together such a subtle solution to a problem that has confounded the adults around him. And that’s quite a trick on Steinbeck’s part.
Grandfather looked back at the fire. His fingers unlaced and laced again. Jody knew how he felt, how his insides were collapsed and empty. Hadn’t Jody been called a Big-Britches this very afternoon? He arose to heroism and opened himself to the term Big-Britches again. “Tell me about Indians,” he said softly.