Steinbeck formulated his phalanx theory in 1933, in an atmosphere of social unease with the rise of fascism, communism, industrial unionism, and other mass movements. Though perhaps conceived originally as a scientific attempt to explain group behavior, Steinbeck's theory seems to stray (perhaps not intentionally) from scientific objectivity toward subjective sociological appraisal. As it is presented in his literature, I argue Steinbeck's phalanx theory must not be taken as science, but rather, as a model for understanding his exploration of collective behavior and human potential. This broadened concept of “phalanx potential,” as I call it, should be understood apart from mere extension of the original theory itself. I argue, in instances where Steinbeck's phalanx theory seems to fulfill its capacity as a creative force, the phalanx itself requires the efficacious leadership of a “collective individual.” That is, the success of Steinbeck's phalanx, paradoxically, relies on an individual, a remarkable “other,” simultaneously outside of, and within, the phalanx itself. While Steinbeck's earlier works, namely, “The Vigilante” and In Dubious Battle, present a critical view of the dangers and destructive possibilities unharnessed phalanxes present, his later works, namely, The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row, offer a more redemptive and productive view on the potential of these collectives. I contend that the reason for this progression lies in Steinbeck's treatment of these unique “collective individuals,” and their ability to foster democratic, participatory communities.

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