Steinbeck, John. 1950. Burning Bright. 128 pages.
Burning Bright is a "play in story form." A short novella in three acts revolving around a marriage: Joe Saul and Mordeen. Joe Saul is an older man, and Mordeen is his devoted wife. She'd do anything to please him. What Joe Saul wants more than anything is a child, a son. But what Mordeen knows--and Friend Ed knows as well--is that Joe Saul is sterile. What's a good wife to do? Enter Victor. A man who is mad over Mordeen. At first, the reader doesn't know what kind of madness this is...is it lust, is it love, is it obsession? He wants Mordeen. Mordeen wants a baby to give her husband.
This is a strange little book. If you've read it, I'd be curious to hear what YOU think of it. While the characters remain the same in all three acts, there is a change of particulars. The first act is set at the circus. Joe Saul and Victor are circus men. The second act is set on a farm. Joe Saul and Victor are farmers. The third act is set at sea. Joe Saul and Victor are sailors. See what I mean about strange?
The book explores several things really. The need and desire for children. It examines--in a seemingly small way--nature versus nurture. Joe Saul--in the beginning--is speaking about legacies. Since it's the first act, he's talking about generation of generation of generations in his family being circus men. The circus is something "in the blood." You're born into it. There's a difference--a notable difference in his opinion--between tried-and-true family-born performers and newcomers who are trying to break into show business. Victor--as a newcomer--just doesn't measure up. This is repeated again in the second act, he talks about how farming comes naturally. Passing on the family farm, etc. Learning to hear from the earth, the plants and soil, from the time you can toddle. I can't remember if the third act makes the same connection with the sea or not. But one of the themes is legacies. Are you who you are because of biology? There at the end, Joe Saul, begins to realize that maybe just maybe it is how you are raised, how you are loved that makes the difference.
"Look down. Here he lies sleeping, to teach me. Our dear race, born without courage but very brave, born with a flickering intelligence and yet with beauty in its hands. What animal has made beauty, created it, save only we? With all our horrors and our faults, somewhere in us there is a shining. That is the most important of all facts. There is a shining."
"I had to walk into the black to know--to know that every man is father to all children and every child must have all men as father..."
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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