‘The Murder’ by John Steinbeck

The Murder by John Steinbeck, 1933

The magic trick:

Portraying a murder to get at a deeper truth about a married couple

We’re off to California this week, so Steinbeck seems a perfect place to start.

This is a very, very interesting story.

The title creates suspense as we read most of the text waiting to see who gets murdered. But it turns out that was the wrong line of thinking on our parts. Ultimately, the person getting murdered doesn’t matter. It’s all about what the aftermath shows us about this married couple and the psychology behind what makes them tick. And that’s quite a trick on Steinbeck’s part.

The selection:

“Don’t be big fool, now,” he said. “Jelka is Slav girl. He’s not like American girl. If he is bad, beat him. If he’s good too long, beat him too. I beat his mama. Papa beat my mama. Slav girl! He’s not like a man that don’t beat the hell out of him.”

“I wouldn’t beat Jelka,” Jim said.

The father giggled and nudged him again with his elbow. “Don’t be big fool,” he warned. “Sometime you see.” He rolled back to the beer barrel.

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