Abstract

In John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, two elderly men, the paisano Gitano and Jody’s grandfather, experience marginalization in old age. Their different approaches to aging, which are respectively in accordance with “gerotranscendence” and “positive aging,” lead to their different end-of-life quests, which are both closely related to westering and pioneer values in American history. Grandfather tries, but fails, in his performance of the pioneers’ masculine ideals, and his behaviors and storytelling manifest strong signs of fascism. Gitano’s return to the valley and his proclamation, “I am Gitano, and I have come back,” show his sense of entitlement to and sense of belonging to the land and the surrounding ecological community. The different outcomes of the two men’s experiences show on the one hand Steinbeck’s critical reflection upon the pioneers and the westering in American history and on the other hand his advocacy for a renewed close bond between humans and land to replace land colonization for capital expansion.

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