Cannery Row’s Human Parade: Helpful Hints for Better Training Design

Image of "The Marriage of Psyche," painting by Burne-JonesAs an instructional designer in business and industry I had the responsibility for preparing employees to face critical and risky tasks—ones that demanded courage and flawless creativity. It is a fact that most risky tasks are handled alone and not by a team or committee. To meet the challenges, I had to replace the usual classroom experiences with new training methods that considered the whole work environment. My methods were built on the ideas of the psychologist Carl Jung that were applied so well by John Steinbeck in his fiction and non-fiction, including Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, The Log From the Sea of Cortez, The Moon Is Down, and East Of Eden. What follows continues the line of inquiry in my most recent post.
Like Carl Jung, John Steinbeck understood the principle well, as shown in a letter to John O’Hara, his friend and fellow writer:

“I think I believe one thing powerfully-that the only creative thing our species has is the individual lonely mind. Two people can create a child but I know of no other thing created by a group. The group ungoverned by individual thinking is a horrible destructive principle. . . . “
As a result of my study, it became very clear to me that while individuals were facing creatively demanding tasks alone, the physical and social environment in which the creative effort must be undertaken influences job-holder perception, judgment, problem-solving, and decision-making—and inevitably, success or failure.

Carl Jung, Cannery Row, and the Human-Persona Divide

In my assignments as a training program developer, I became curious about the influences of the work environment on the individual. My goal was to create a richer and more realistic learning experience. I had years of independent study of Carl Jung and was aware of his influence on John Steinbeck’s fiction and non-fiction. Both inspired my efforts and spurred my curiosity.

As a result of reading Jung and Steinbeck, I began to understand why particular types of individuals seem to gravitate to certain jobs. For example, the personality difference between the engineer- and customer service and marketing-types is typically dramatic. What did John Steinbeck have to say about this particular human-persona divide? It seemed obvious to me that the Cannery Row character Doc would not have made a successful sporting house manager like Dora, and that Mack would have been a poor replacement for Doc in the role of Caretaker for the Row. Strong characters all, but hardly interchangeable.

Delving deeply into The Log From the Sea Of Cortez—John Steinbeck’s collaboration with Ed Ricketts, the model for his Cannery Row character Doc—I was struck by the idea that a person’s social and physical environment is no more random than that of the tide pool creatures described by the authors:

“We wanted to see everything our eyes would accommodate, to think what we could, and, out of our seeing and thinking, to build some kind of structure in modeled imitation of the observed reality. We knew that what we would see and record and construct would be warped, as all knowledge patterns are warped, first, by the collective pressure and stream of our time and race, second by the thrust of our individual personalities. But knowing this, we might not fall into too many holes-we might maintain some balance between our warp and the separate thing, the external reality.”

A Cannery Row-Sweet Thursday Human-Type Continuum

A training program, physical environment has purpose, patterns, lessons, and consequences like those imposed by the surrounding tide pool environment on a biological specimen. The life in a peaceful, safe, and unchallenging tide pool may actually impede species evolution and survival. The microbes that infect us evolve and strengthen in response to antibiotics designed to kill them. Grapes from a difficult growing season often produce superior wine. Trainees who survive a practical-and stressful- learning environment may likewise perform better than others on the job.

Consider the social environment and social impact upon the denizens of Cannery Row in Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck’s sequel to the earlier novel:

“To a casual observer Cannery Row might have seemed a series of self-contained and selfish units, each functioning alone with no reference to the others. There was little visible connection between La Ida’s, the Bear Flag, the grocery (still known as Lee Chong’s Heavenly Flower Grocery), the Palace Flop house, and Western Biological Laboratories. The fact is that each was bound by gossamer threads of steel to all the others—hurt one, and you aroused vengeance in all. Let sadness come to one, and all wept.”

Or, by contrast, the following passage from Cannery Row:

“The previous watchman was named William and he was a dark and lonesome-looking man. In the daytime when his duties were few he would grow tired of female company. Through the windows he could see Mack and the boys sitting on the pipes in the vacant lot, dangling their feet in the mallow weeds and taking the sun while they discoursed slowly and philosophically of matters of interest but of no importance. Now and then as he watched them he saw them take out a pint of Old Tennis Shoes and wiping the neck of the bottle on a sleeve, raise the pint one after another. And William began to wish he could join that good group. He walked out one day and sat on the pipe. Conversation stopped and an uneasy and hostile silence fell on the group. After a while William went disconsolately back to the Bear Flag and through the window he saw the conversation spring up again and it saddened him. He had a dark and ugly face and a mouth twisted with brooding. The next day he went again and this time he took a pint of whiskey. Mack and the boys drank the whiskey, after all they weren’t crazy, but all the talking they did was “Good luck,” and “Lookin’ at you.” After a while William went back to the Bear Flag and he watched them through the window and he heard Mack raise his voice saying, “But God damn it, I hate a pimp!” Now this was obviously untrue although William didn’t know that. Mack and the boys just didn’t like William.”

Individual Levels in John Steinbeck’s The Moon Is Down

Just as examining a biological specimen in its surrounding tide pool yields greater information than isolated examination in a laboratory, we can learn more about individuals by studying them within their physical and social environment than in solitude. Conceptual tools such as Carl Jung’s functional and attitudinal types and Jim Kent’s Gathering Place Roles (discussed previously in this series) further expand our horizon. Deeper drilling reveals why particular Jungian functional types and attitudes will gravitate naturally to specific Gathering Place roles.

As noted in the first of these blog posts, human beings range in maturity from simple, unconscious types to highly evolved individuals who are conscious about and in control of their lives. Now I would like add my observations about groups made up of members who have not achieved higher maturity:

1. If there is any social structure at all, the social body will be vertically directed by leaders who have realized how easy it is to influence the citizens to do their will, usually for selfish and evil reasons. “Tell the population anything and repeat it many times and they will believe it” (Adolf Hitler paraphrased).
2. Less-evolved citizens who have not awakened to the possibility of their unique self and self-direction and will easily surrender their freedom to father or mother figures, real or imagined, and remain unaware of the resulting personal cost.
3. Such followers do not actively direct their lives beyond providing for the basics of assuring food, shelter, and procreation.
4. They project upon external gods, including father and mother figures, and are closed to suggestions from outside the social group: all thinking has been entrusted to the mother or father figure.
5. Total leader-control is possible simply by publishing of a list of “ought-and-must” dictates.
6. The leadership will be threatened by anyone who refuses to surrender his or her freedoms. Given the usual absolute power of the leaders, it is simple to incite mass or MOB confrontation against those who threaten challenge or change, sometimes cruelly and violently.

Where individuals of higher maturity comprise the group the following can be observed:

1. The leadership unselfishly serves its citizens.
2. “Ought-and-must” dictates are almost useless to control the citizenry comprised of higher-evolved individuals.
3. The life of the citizens has more potential for happiness and completeness.
4. Within this positive and loving environment, interpersonal struggles will persist because everyone will not agree on every issue. There is a noticeable difference between interpersonal struggles within a loving social environment and the ones where there is virtual sibling-rivalry for the father or mother figure’s attention. Adolf Hitler actually encouraged such confrontation among his leadership.
5. Highly evolved individuals have learned that there is more in play in themselves than mere ego and have begun to explore and integrate newly discovered psychological territory. This is perhaps the most important step to becoming a complete individual.
6. The collective power for good often exceeds what would be anticipated from apparent resources. Unexpected strength and adaptability will come out of the positive and powerful phalanx of more mature individuals.

In The Moon Is Down, John Steinbeck portrayed a community of evolved (per my recent post, Level 3 and Level 4) men and women, dramatizing the power of such a phalanx in response to occupation by father-figure representatives of a distant and despotic leader. The Nazi spokesman advises the mayor to “think for” his people:

“’It is your duty to protect them from harm. They will be in danger if they are rebellious. We must get the coal, you see. Our leaders do not tell us how; they order us to get it. But you have your people to protect. You must make them do the work and thus keep them safe.’ Mayor Orden asked, ‘But suppose they don’t want to be safe?’ ‘Then you must think for them.’ Orden said, a little proudly, ‘My people don’t like to have others think for them. Maybe they are different from your people. I am confused, but that I am sure of.’”

With the various levels of individual evolution in mind, consider the history of freedom-loving Scotland with the citizens being served by the Stewart monarchy. Go back further, to the Britons and King Arthur—John Steinbeck’s ideal of dedication to duty and chivalry. Fast forward to the Ottoman Empire, where the rights of all religions were guaranteed by proclamation. Consider the social environment surrounding the Library at Alexandria—destroyed by Christians—where citizens of all cultures, ideals, and creeds mingled and freely shared their knowledge and wisdom.

Needs Analysis and Jung and Steinbeck’s Human Factor

In my instructional design career I was responsible for providing training in tasks as simple as completing personnel time records and as complex as monitoring and controlling complicated electric generating-station systems. As noted, my programs were also used to prepare teams of consultants to influence and support communities that were facing challenges. In many cases, my job required the analysis of complex systems and processes, human-to-system interface, and interpersonal and social issues, using Needs Analysis to define the gap between existing competency levels and those needed to do the job with greater expertise.

Needs Analysis provide the necessary information to design training models, proposals, and justification, cost-benefit, and standards. Technical and complex-process analysts normally have abundant technical and process data available for their task. But complex critical-skill competencies also include personal and interpersonal components such as individual jobholder style, strengths, weaknesses, creativity, perception, judgment, and decision-making, problem-solving, risk-management skills.

But the analyst’s intellect is as critical to the success of the process as the technical tools developed in preparation for the act of training. Yet the humanities side of the training is all too often ignored in the process. The briefest examination of technical-owner manuals shows how poorly qualified most computer programmers and engineers are to write useful guides for the non-technical user. Worse still, to an experienced instructional designer, the engineer’s boast that he has emulated the cognitive processes of the human mind in designing artificial intelligence and expert systems for human use is laughable at best.

When I awoke to the need for a more holistic critical skills-training perspective, little was available to guide me in the human elements of the equation beyond publications by psychological behaviorists such as Thomas F. Gilbert and Robert Mager. But their view was limited to statistically defined and empirically observable behavior and ignored the influence of individual will and social environment. In my opinion they were uninterested in the factors that form our uniqueness and individual creativity. To develop a more complete program I knew that a broader perspective was required, providing a bigger window from which to analyze work processes and standards in greater depth and detail.

The program developers I managed were almost exclusively specialists and technical experts inexperienced in or ignorant of the humanities. To do a more thorough job, their subject-matter expertise needed bolstering with knowledge of human factors, attributes, and cognitive functions. Failure to consider these essential elements within the context of a given task accounts for many problems, notably in military training, pilot training simulation, nuclear power plant operation, ship navigation, and other life-and-death tasks. The 1979 near- disaster at Nuclear Generating Station Number Two on Three Mile Island is a dramatic example of this danger.

Was John Steinbeck Right About Religion and Freedom?

But was John Steinbeck always right about the individual? In the forward to a later edition of A Russian Journal he was quoted: “The great change in the last 2,000 years was the Christian idea that the individual soul was very precious.”  I disagree, and I think Steinbeck knew better. Historically Christianity has cruelly suppressed individual behaviors and beliefs that appeared to challenge official doctrine and church control. In this regard, it is a religion with much company in the parade of human history.

The suppression of individual freedom remains an impediment to the general improvement of the human condition. As Steinbeck showed in The Moon Is Down, the simple act of raising individual consciousness from Level 1 to Level 2 improves the quality of the collective. In East of Eden, written 10 years later, the original sin isn’t eating the apple of the tree, suggesting that Eden was incomplete without self-knowledge—the real fruit of the forbidden tree. Eve is denigrated by the religious for taking that first bite of freedom. To the contrary, I am convinced that Adam benefitted from the reported act of her original disobedience. I suspect that John Steinbeck agreed.

“It is, I think, exceedingly easy to define what ought to be understood by national honor; for that which is the best character for an individual is the best character for a nation; and wherever the latter exceeds or falls beneath the former, there is a departure from the line of true greatness.”  (Thomas Paine)

This is the third in Wesley Stillwagon’s series on the application of John Steinbeck and Carl Jung’s insights in innovative corporate training program design. To be continued.

A Meeting of Minds on Cannery Row: John Steinbeck’s Phalanx, Carl Jung’s Types, and James Kent’s Gathering Place Roles

Image of Poussin's painting of a gathering in Arcadia

Some years ago my paper on John Steinbeck, Carl Jung, the phalanx, and the Development of Higher Management Teams was published by an online forum devoted to the life and work of the Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung. At the time I was developing team and organization building programs for corporations. My job required some business travel. While in California I did what other Steinbeck lovers do: I took a side trip to Monterey’s Cannery Row. What follows further develops my recent post on John Steinbeck, Carl Jung, and how their insights can be applied in business.

Fellow Pilgrims to Cannery Row Discover a Mutual Interest

Sometime before my pilgrimage to Cannery Row, I received a call from James Kent (shown below), a John Steinbeck fan who also recognized the practical value of Steinbeck’s work beyond its entertaining read. He told me that he found my phalanx paper and thoughts interesting. We agreed to meet on Cannery Row to talk in person. On a walk down the hallway of our Monterey motel, Jim mentioned his concept of Gathering Place roles and how his team uses it in their initial analysis of informal network gatherings in restaurants, barbershops, and taverns in communities facing challenges. Jim and his team discovered the true nature of public attitudes and resistance within these gatherings beneath the sanitized version frequently presented by public officials. I thought the idea was brilliant and I said so.

I also thought that the concept could be applied in team analysis and building within large organizations—and I still do. This made my connection with Jim and his ideas on Cannery Row that day a particularly fortunate synchronistic experience. If one accepts Jim’s Gathering Place concept, it seems natural to me to consider its relationship to ideas expressed in John Steinbeck’s writing about the phalanx and Carl Jung’s analysis of personal and collective unconscious, functional types, and attitudes.

Steinbeck and Ricketts’ Non-Teleological Way of Thinking

To develop a personally useful understanding of phalanx, one must employ a perspective that does not require a cause-effect relationship common to some scientific research. In other words, with this non-teleological perspective the researchers eliminate the influences of hopes, fears, and expectations in their planning and study. (Please refer to the Pygmalion effect or Rosenthal effect.) Such a perspective enables the researcher to drill through the illusions and brings the subject closer to John Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts’ goal of “true things.” The perspective enables increased objectivity and reduces human subjectivity, projection, and slant. Scientific psychology research has a handicap that is not an issue in other empirical sciences, and that is the study instrument (the individual human psyche) must be used to study individual human psyches. No other science has such a threat to objectivity. As a result, a non-teleological perspective is essential to psychological study objectivity.

In The Log From the Sea Of Cortez, John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts stated the following regarding teleological and non-teleological thinking:

What we personally conceive by the term “teleological thinking,” as exemplified by the notion about the shiftless unemployed, is most frequently associated with the evaluating of causes and effects, the purposiveness of events. This kind of thinking considers changes and cures—what “should be” in the terms of an end pattern (which is often a subjective or an anthropomorphic projection); it presumes the bettering of conditions, often, unfortunately, without achieving more than a most superficial understanding of those conditions. In their sometimes intolerant refusal to face facts as they are, teleological notions may substitute a fierce but ineffectual attempt to change conditions which are assumed to be undesirable, in place of the understanding-acceptance which would pave the way for a more sensible attempt at any change which might pave the way for a more sensible attempt at any change which might still be indicated. Non-teleological ideas derive through “is” thinking, associated with natural selection as Darwin seems to have understood it. They imply depth, fundamentalism, and clarity—seeing beyond traditional or personal projections. They consider events as outgrowths and expressions rather than as results; conscious acceptance as a desideratum, and certainly as an all-important prerequisite. Non-teleological thinking concerns itself primarily not with what should be, or could be, or might be, but rather with what actually “is”—attempting at most to answer the already sufficiently difficult questions what or how, instead of why. An interesting parallel.

The powerful, unconscious, and autonomous influence on individual perception, judgment, conclusions, problem solving, decisions, and behavior, within an objective-focused gathering, group, or MOB, is what John Steinbeck called the phalanx. The MOB objective may be unreasonable or illusory, but may cause members to participate in scape-goating or group bullying of those who simply disagree with their beliefs. I believe there are few things in this life more worthy of scholarly examination than the phalanx phenomenon. The concept is based somewhat on the collective unconscious described by Carl Jung and by other philosophical giants including Harvard Professor William James, a major influence on Jung also familiar to Steinbeck, who coined the term phalanx, clearly defined it, and applied the concept in his novels.

Carl Jung’s Types and Jim Kent’s Gathering Place Roles

Image of James Kent at a Cannery Row gathering placeJim Kent’s Gathering Places for friends in a network are casual happenings. (John Steinbeck in Sweet Thursday: “In the Palace Flop house a little meeting occurred—occurred, because no one called it, no one planned it, and yet everyone knew what it was about.”) Informal Gathering Place roles are casually filled without formal election or appointment. I think individual styles role players gravitate naturally to their position. While I have no supportive data for this theory, I honestly believe such research would show that particular roles would naturally be filled by specific functional typesSensation, Thinking, Intuiting, and Feelingand attitudes: Extraverted, and Introverted. (There will be much more about the functions, attitudes, and types in my sequel to this article.) In my opinion, for example, Ed Ricketts was an “Introverted Sensation Feeling” type and as a result would fit nicely within Jim Kent’s “Caretaker” role as he specified.

Of the Introverted Sensation Type, Carl Jung said:

If there were present a capacity and readiness for expression in any way commensurate with the strength of sensation, the irrationality of this type would be extremely evident. This is the case, for instance, when the individual is a creative artist. But, since this is the exception, it usually happens that the characteristic introverted difficulty of expression also conceals his irrationality. On the contrary, he may actually stand out by the very calmness and passivity of his demeanour, or by his rational self-control. This peculiarity, which often leads the superficial judgment astray, is really due to his unrelatedness to objects.

If we include the influence of the Feeling function as an auxiliary to his Sensation type, then we are implying a strong tendency to perceive with a lean toward the interpersonal. This is my opinion based upon what information I’ve read about Ricketts. Jim’s Gathering Place roles are readily summarized and often exemplified in Steinbeck’s fiction, including Cannery Row.

Image of a Cannery Row crowd

Gathering Place Roles with Examples from Cannery Row


Are the glue that holds the culture together.
Are routinely accessible to people of the networks when they need assistance or advice.
Give assistance or advice freely; there is no chit or payback expected.
Are invisible to outsiders and do not belong to formal groups.
Are essential to high levels of social capital in society.

Ed Ricketts was a Caretaker, as is John  Steinbeck’s character, the madam Flora (Fawna).


Move information throughout the networks.
Are generally in places where they come into contact with people from various informal networks and formal groups.
Are especially prevalent in gathering places such as coffee shops, bars, beauty shops, restaurants, etc.
Are essential for moving information quickly throughout a community when you need accuracy and word-of-mouth speed.

John Steinbeck’s strike-strategist Mac is a Communicator between networks in In Dubious Battle.  In Tortilla Flat Danny is a Caretaker/Communicator; Wing Chung is a Communicator.


Carry the culture through their stories.
Provide a community with the culture benchmarks that are essential to understand how a community can grow and still maintain the good parts of their culture.
Understand the importance of gathering places and are often the “characters” in the gathering places.

George in Of Mice and Men is a Storyteller.  Of course the character Doc is cast as a Storyteller in Cannery Row, and the whole Lab actuality functions as a gathering place where stories bring understanding, introspection, reflection, and action.


Function as a protective device for the informal systems screening out intrusive people from formal systems.
Narrow the entry to a network or community through information control.
Are often verbal people who understand both the informal and the formal.


Function in the area of knowledge and wisdom.
Have knowledge and wisdom from the culture and often provide cultural interpretations to technical data and information generated by formal systems.  Often these individuals have one foot in the cultural context and another in a scientific context understanding both as well as how to integrate so that scientific data can be put into a local context that is usable.

The Seer in Cannery Row is an Authenticator for Doc. Former Ricketts-lab key holder Eldon Dedini operates in this capacity in relation to the real-life lab and its function. Lab gathering place regular Bruce Aris was such a person, as was Ed Ricketts.

Applying the Gathering Place Concept in Your Own Group

I’d like to add my opinion that if one were to include the Jungian concept of Psychological Type to the role definitions, it may become even a more powerful tool than it is. Still, the recognition of the concept was brilliant. Think of an informal gathering of friends. Most of us would predict the likelihood that among the group are individuals filling roles as described by Jim Kent. In any network there are individuals who complement each other and other pairs who grate on each other’s nerves but tolerate the irritation for the good of the fellowship. I believe that there are gathering place role owners who, simply because of their opposing styles, may be irritants to one other. For instance, a Gatekeeper’s style may sharply contrast with that of a Communicator. A preponderance of such interpersonal connections either way will influence the social environment AND the group’s relationship to the phalanx.

Using Carl Jung’s type concept, imagine a role filled by an Introverted Intuitive Thinking type, complete with his or her grand visions, long-term plans, flow charts, logistics, cold and impersonal logic, and another role filled by an Extraverted Sensation Feeling type with interpersonal objectives, stories of previous experiences, etc. They are opposites who can either (1) let petty differences fester to the detriment of the group’s social atmosphere or (2) acknowledge that their negative emotions come out of  weaknesses that are contrasted in the persona of the other individual. When this is acknowledged, the two may personally benefit from the awakening, celebrate, and value their complementary styles. The latter possibility will add to the quality of the social atmosphere and will (1) make the group less vulnerable to the negative influences of phalanx and (2) empower the network to strength far beyond its apparent resources.

Photo of James Kent courtesy Wesley Stillwagon.

This is the second in Wesley Stillwagon’s series on the application of John Steinbeck and Carl Jung’s insights in innovative corporate training program design. To be continued.

John Steinbeck, Carl Jung, and Phalanx in Tortilla Flat

Image of Carl JungJohn Steinbeck was ambivalent about psychology. In 1962 he lashed out at his country’s modern “psychiatric priesthood” in Travels with Charley. But 30 years earlier he had stayed up nights discussing the psychological insights of Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychologist-psychiatrist shown here, with Ed Ricketts, Joseph Campbell, and other members of the bohemian Cannery Row circle in the Monterey of his youth. As a result, Jungian principles of a collective human unconscious, the meaning of symbols and myths, and the essential role of certain types of individuals in group behavior inform Steinbeck’s most successful fiction of the 1930s. To a God Unknown and In Dubious Battle are frequently cited examples. As I will show, the insights of Jung in advancing Steinbeck and Ricketts’ phalanx theory are equally evident in Tortilla Flat, the book that launched Steinbeck’s reputation as a promising new writer.

Carl Jung, John Steinbeck, and the Problem of Language

I reached this conclusion not through studying literary theory in a classroom but by reading Carl Jung and John Steinbeck and applying their insights in my three-decade career designing, developing, and leading critical skills and management training programs for corporations such as RCA, KPMG Peat Marwick, Honeywell, AT&T, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Jersey, and others. In business, critical skills include tasks where failure to properly perform may cause death, serious injury, or financial loss. Central to the development of cost-effective critical skills training programs in my work was assuring clearly and uniformly understood terms, concepts, and models. To do this, a good instructional designer must define terms and concepts so that training objectives and process are easily communicated and comprehended.

This is usually not too much of a problem in industries and professions that have well-defined lexicons, such as law, engineering, and accounting. It is more difficult when training enters more the ambiguous arena of consulting, marketing, management, and sales. But these activities also require clearly-understood language for personal, interpersonal, team, and group-related tasks. Naturally the field of psychology seems an appropriate place to handle individual, interpersonal, and teaming challenges that arise in the process of doing business and improving outcomes. Yet key terms and basic concepts vary greatly throughout psychology from one school of thought and practice to another. For instance, the essential term ego is defined quite differently by followers of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and was ignored completely by later behaviorists such as B.F. Skinner.

Because reliable sources to develop a useful lexicon for applying psychological theories outside the box of clinical psychotherapy are few—and because individual psychologists frequently employ esoteric language and the terms, concepts, and models commonly used are often misunderstood between different schools of psychology—the study and practice of psychology in its various fields and forms is almost universally looked down upon by more precise sciences as fundamentally unscientific. The language problem inherent in psychology is a major reason why empirically-minded biologists and chemists—the sciences that attracted and engaged John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts—continue to hold psychology in low esteem.

Discovering the John Steinbeck-Carl Jung Connection

I have been a Steinbeck fan since I first read his fiction, which I found irresistibly unpretentious, down-to-earth, and clear in style and story. Who could argue with the humor and accessibility of Tortilla Flat, his earliest best seller, for example? As in Steinbeck’s later novels, the characters in Tortilla Flat are so thoroughly defined that you felt you had known them all your life.

After rereading Tortilla Flat approximately 30 years ago, I began to sense a Jungian influence in its narrative flow and structure, an observation that was confirmed when I read the biographies of John Steinbeck that started to appear in the 1980s. When I learned that the young mythologist Joseph Campbell was part of the Cannery Row scene swirling around Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts In 1932, and that Campbell’s correspondence with Ricketts continued until Ricketts’ death in 1948, there was no doubt in my mind about the influence of Carl Jung on Steinbeck’s writing—including Tortilla Flat—during the years that followed. I was equally intrigued to discover that the influence of Carl Jung on John Steinbeck did not originate with Ricketts or Campbell as some have supposed. John Steinbeck was a deep reader with wide interests who took philosophy as a student at Stanford. As a result, he came to Cannery Row in the early 1930s with knowledge about modern psychology.

The Phalanx and “Breaking Through”

The unconscious influence on behavior of individuals—Steinbeck’s “human units”—within an objective focused gathering, group, or MOB that Steinbeck called the phalanx is, I believe, worthy of closer examination today. As mentioned, To a God Unknown and In Dubious Battle are frequently adduced as examples from the fiction of the 1930s. But a piece of nonfiction published by Steinbeck in 1942, Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team, includes a description of the phalanx in the training and development of bomber crews by the wartime Army Air Corps, and The Log from Sea of Cortez explains the phalanx more fully than any other work of nonfiction published in Steinbeck’s lifetime.

The MOB’s objective may seem simply unreasonable or illusionary, such as group bullying or scapegoating those who disagree with the MOB’s belief or creed. But however irrational or inexplicable, it can produce horrors like the Holocaust. Given the explosion of MOB violence around the world in our time and the reported incidence of  bullying in our schools, better understanding the phalanx as Steinbeck developed and used the term seems to me to be more important than ever before.

Steinbeck’s phalanx is based in part on Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, as well as on the ideas of philosophers familiar to Steinbeck from his studies at Stanford, such as those of William James—an important influence on Jung himself in my opinion. As a result of Steinbeck’s reading, discussion, and understanding of Jung, James, and others, I believe that he consciously coined the term phalanx, clearly defined it in his thinking, and applied it in his work, including Tortilla Flat.

As also mentioned, the concept is not something Steinbeck acquired from Ricketts but came to him as a result of his personal awakening to a thread connecting random notes that he kept in a cigar box beginning as early as the 1920s. When I read about the writer’s habit of jotting ideas on bits of paper in a leading John Steinbeck biography, I thought to myself, “what a great example of Jung’s Intuition!”  Significantly, the connection occurred to Steinbeck during his mother’s long illness and the crisis of caring for the parent who dominated his family and his boyhood.

To use Ed Ricketts’ term, this was a “breaking through” for John Steinbeck at age 33—a life-changing epiphany or event resulting in a leap of personal growth. Practitioners of Carl Jung’s method of psychology recognize how a personal tragedy like the death of a parent can awaken the mind’s eye to a new perspective, a deeper consciousness, and greater understanding. Importantly for my point, such an awakening proportionally reduces an individual’s susceptibility to the negative influence of the phalanx, sometimes by raising his or her resistance to participation in MOB violence and destruction. A desire to break through to deeper knowledge is a defining trait of each of the fictional characters created by Steinbeck, beginning with In Dubious Battle, based on Ed Ricketts.

Levels of Adult Maturity and the Influence of the Phalanx

In developing his phalanx concept, Steinbeck articulated two key characteristics:

* A group, gathering or MOB can take on an autonomous psychology and behave in a manner that may be quite different from what would be displayed by individual members under the same circumstances.

* The psychology of the group frequently appears to be in antagonistic counterpoint to the individual psychology of its human units.

I would add a third point: The higher the development or maturity of the group’s individual members, the less the negative influence exerted by the MOB on the group’s behavior. T

The levels of this development or maturity are fourfold:

Level 1.  Level 1 persons are almost completely unaware of their uniqueness as individuals. They have no ego as the term is used in the clinical sense—that is, the psychological object within which an individual defines himself or herself. Those who exist at this level lead lives that revolve around basic survival, shelter, safety, and procreation. They leave decisions on important matters up to authority figures such as a father or mother. During Jung’s research among African and North American Native tribes, tribal members told him that they leave all thinking and decision-making to their tribal chief or medicine person. They could not distinguish between their dream state and conscious state. They told Jung that they thought anyone charged with the burden of thinking was crazy. They were mainly unconscious.

Level 2. Level 2 individuals awaken to the differences between themselves and others. This is the beginning of the existence of their ego: their awakening to their uniqueness in the world or the universe. An individual at this level typically projects onto external gods and devils. As a result of their development they gradually learn to participate in their personal path, create goals, and use individual tools in dealing with life and its issues. But for the most part they are driven to self-serving aims with their newly discovered skills. They still are mainly unconscious.

Level 3. To understand my description of Level 3, we must agree on the definition of the term ego I intend: one’s conscious image of himself or herself. When we reflect upon ourselves, the image we perceive is the ego. The term is often mistakenly used to refer to an inflated ego where the self-image of an individual exceeds reality. But in truth, the ego is the focal point to which all objects of perception must relate to become conscious. Persons at Level 3 have a nearly completely developed ego and view it as their center, denying the existence of anything about themselves outside its circumference. While the Level 3 individual denies the unconscious, they are nonetheless the victim of unconscious influences in their behavior. Examples include embarrassing slips-of-the tongue or falling in love with a person who is wrong for many reasons. They may also be victims of irrational fears or hates—the Shadow, to use another term from Carl Jung, Level 3 persons are apt to become victims of group influence at the MOB phalanx, however emphatically they may deny this possibility.

Level 4.  For a variety reasons, some painful, Level 4 individuals have awakened to the reality that there is more to themselves than their ego. Accompanying this realization is a curiosity about their newly revealed psychological territory. It     usually doesn’t take them long to explore this uncharted terrain within themselves. Ideally, when they do so they will seek to integrate what they discover about themselves into their existing self-image and further build their ego on stronger ground. The previously unintegrated elements of Self found in their exploration likely were the source of many of the projections they suffered at earlier stages of their development on the way to Level 4 self-knowledge. Level 4 people are thus the most conscious and least vulnerable to phalanx influence. They are truly their own man or woman.

Readers may recognize the differences in persona presented by individuals at the levels I have described. These differences can be perceived through interpersonal dialogue and interaction or through observing behavior. Strong caution must be suggested to avoid pigeon holing another and then acting on that classification. Remember, we are also responsible for the persona we perceive of others and it may be very wrong. Individuals at Level 4 (Ed Ricketts, for example) often appear peaceful, content, friendly, and kind. Those at lower levels may be more easily influenced by fear, hatred, and ignorance. The fiction of John Steinbeck, who I believe intuited this truth about humans, offers unforgettable examples of people at every level of evolution.

The Phalanx in Tortilla Flat

In Tortilla Flat, I believe that phalanx can first be observed in action among Steinbeck’s paisanos as verbalized by the character Pilon, who expresses the group’s feeling that Danny, the “group caretaker,” has abandoned them. Characters like Danny—and later Doc and Fauna in Cannery Row—play the essential group-caretaker role ably articulated and applied in his work as an international management consultant by my friend James Kent, a Steinbeck lover of profound learning and understanding.

Pilon thinks that Danny is spending too much time with Sweets Ramiriz—the grateful recipient of the gift of a vacuum cleaner she can’t use—with the result that the group feels abandoned by their leader: “At first his friends ignored his absence, for it is the right of every man to have these little affairs. But as the weeks went on, and as a rather violent domestic life began to make Danny listless and pale, his friends became convinced that Sweets’ gratitude for the sweeping-machine was not to Danny’s best physical interests.”

The verbalized concern for Danny’s physical health is a rationalization—a banner-call to action—although its actual value-driven inspiration is jealousy about a relationship that has taken Danny away from the group. This distinction is important. In judging group or team behavior in business, logical rationalizations and value-judgments are significant factors in analyzing and predicting group or team actions; since they are functionally different, they require different responses. The distinction is revealed in Steinbeck’s description of the group’s decision to do something about the situation that confronts them: “Wherefore the friends, in despair, organized a group, formed for and dedicated to [Sweets’] destruction.”

As dramatized in John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, the phalanx is an unconscious complex within a group drawn together with a commonly-held objective by forces from within the collective unconscious. But the attempt to effectively influence the illusionary driving forces of a MOB or community—a common response by authority to such conditions around the world—remains, in practice, a mistake. Targeting the consciously stated objective rather than the unconscious motivation of the group wastes time, resources, and—when force is involved— human lives. Steinbeck learned about the collective unconscious from Carl Jung. We have much to learn about group behavior from John Steinbeck, starting with Tortilla Flat.

This is the first in Wesley Stillwagon’s series on the application of John Steinbeck and Carl Jung’s insights in innovative corporate training program design. To be continued.

The Philosophy of Our Discontent

Image of title page from The Winter of Our DiscontentNovels by Steinbeck communicate differently to different eras, and The Winter of Our Discontent is no exception. Among all the books by Steinbeck that I have read, it is arguably the most philosophical and the least appreciated. Many critics wrote it off as the weakest of all the mature novels by Steinbeck when it was published, yet Steinbeck quotes Shakespeare in the book’s title—a sign of his seriousness and a key to his meaning—and the novel sold well despite doubtful reviews. Later readers have faulted the lack of social relevance on the scale of The Grapes of Wrath and other serious books by Steinbeck—from In Dubious Battle (where Steinbeck quotes Milton) through Sea of Cortez, the most obviously  philosophical of all the books by Steinbeck that survived his habit of aborting projects he felt were becoming shaky, stale, or redundant. Among my favorite books by Steinbeck written after East of Eden, The Winter of Our Discontent most rewards rereading as a philosophical text for our times—a monument of modern existentialism as impressive today as when it was written.

Shakespeare and Steinbeck on the Human Condition

As numerous books by Steinbeck explain, man’s moral problems never really change. Like other novels by Steinbeck—especially East of EdenThe Winter of Our Discontent is most meaningful when read as a contemporary restatement of this well-worn theme. Steinbeck’s story of greed, delusion, and dishonesty in Eisenhower’s America presents issues that precisely parallel current conditions: The payouts and game-show scandals of the 1950s and 60s are today’s privacy invasion and reality television. The hatred of foreigners by American nativists then is our fear of terrorists and illegal immigrants now. The easy resort to plagiarism depicted in The Winter of Our Discontent continues among students today, facilitated by Google and Facebook. Steinbeck quotes Shakespeare in his title for a reason. Ethan Hawley is Hamlet (yes, wrong play), his dilatory self-doubt deepened by the corruption, darkness, and betrayal growing like a Danish cancer.

The easy resort to plagiarism depicted in ‘The Winter of Our Discontent’ continues among students today, facilitated by Google and Facebook.

Three features of The Winter of Our Discontent—after East of Eden, the most autobiographical of all the surviving novels by Steinbeck—advance the book’s philosophy of existential discontent. These include (1) the externalization of the primary character’s internal process, (2) the prevalence of symbolic contrasts and dualities in other characters, and (3) the necessity of self-understanding and personal sacrifice to end cycles of social failure like that experienced by Ethan Hawley before the novel begins. Through skillful use of these materials Steinbeck captures the universal human condition in an unmistakably contemporary setting, communicating his personal anxieties about himself and the culture of his time and creating a screen upon which each of us can project our own feelings of personal failure, ambivalence, and remorse.

Three features of ‘The Winter of Our Discontent’—after ‘East of Eden,’ the most autobiographical of all the surviving novels by Steinbeck—advance the book’s philosophy of existential discontent.

As he recounts his daily thoughts and experiences in real time, Ethan interprets himself and the people around him, both living and dead. His memories of Aunt Deborah and Captain Hawley in particular serve as vehicles for his developing self-critique and his ongoing argument with contemporary culture.  Remember, Steinbeck quotes Shakespeare in the title for a reason. In doubt, dilation, and despair, Ethan is is more Hamlet than Richard. Although neither of Ethan’s dead ancestors is a Polonius, the imagined voices of his grandfather and aunt help Ethan understand both himself and his world as modes of being neither absolutely right nor absolutely wrong—a post-Polonius principle of existential ethics. Unlike Hamlet, Ethan listens, understands, and appears to think his way out of his crisis before it’s too late.

Externalizing the Inner Drama in Ethan Hawley’s Daily Life

Steinbeck externalizes Ethan’s internal drama through soliloquy, dialog, and place symbols for Ethan’s internal spaces. Ethan’s hiding place under the pier, for example, represents the secrecy of his mind, the mulling-place for his anxieties, and a means of escape from the moral pressure he experiences in his closest relationships. The grocery store where he works provides an interior stage peopled by imaginary players before he opens the door for daily business and buyers reality intrude. Of all the books by Steinbeck in which humor serves irony, The Winter of Our Discontent achieves this difficult effect the most subtly in minor scenes where Ethan is in fact but doesn’t act as if alone.  Using liturgical language, Ethan exercises imagined power over the commercial products lined up like acolytes on his shelves in a self-revealing rite of compensation for his family’s lost ownership of the store where he now clerks.

Of all the books by Steinbeck in which humor serves irony, ‘The Winter of Our Discontent’ achieves this difficult effect the most subtly in minor scenes where Ethan is in fact but doesn’t act as if alone.

Ethan’s friend Danny has his own hiding place—the old cellar where he recalls his happy childhood with Ethan before falling from grace as the town drunk. Margie Young-Hunt, too, has her symbol of escape from the boredom of daily life in Baytown, Long Island. The mirror she uses to apply her morning makeup provides time and means for self-reflection on her meaningless life and the men in it, including Ethan,  her best friend husband. Significantly, only Mary Hawley needs no hiding place. Other-directed and uncomplicated, she is a domestic type not found (by me, anyway) in the other novels by Steinbeck I’ve read.

Interpreting Dualities and Sacrifice in Novels by Steinbeck

The contrasts and dualities in novels by Steinbeck are often quite obvious. Here, too, The Winter of Discontent is no exception. Ethan’s attributes as a semi-responsible family man and quasi-productive citizen contrast with Danny’s habitual vagrancy and alcoholism. Mary’s loyalty and innocence are juxtaposed with Marjorie’s sexuality and deceit. Ethan and Mary’s children, Allen and Ellen, are polar opposites. Even Red the dog and the cat living behind the store enact a polarity of type and temperament.

But the most significant duality is represented by Captain Hawley and Aunt Deborah in relation to Ethan’s unfolding process of self-awareness. The ghost of the Captain is a pragmatic mentor figure who comes to Ethan’s aid with practical advice. Aunt Deborah is emotional, almost mystical, and encourages Ethan to seek his own answers inwardly by recalling moments of lost joy from the past. In philosophical terms, Ethan’s antithetical ancestors represent materialism and idealism, praxis and pathos, action and feeling, in forms not found in other books by Steinbeck with characters who are dead, or like the story’s dog and cat, animals.

Ethan’s antithetical ancestors represent materialism and idealism, praxis and pathos, action and feeling, in forms not found in other books by Steinbeck with characters who are dead, or like the story’s dog and cat, animals.

As with Shakespeare, Steinbeck quotes the Bible for a reason and usually a symbol. In the context of its numerous biblical references, The Winter of Our Discontent can be read as a symbolic story about man’s fall from innocence in which the warring halves of Ethan’s psyche are projected as both Adam and Eve. Are their sins visited on the Hawley children, as in the biblical account? In my reading of other novels in which Steinbeck quotes Genesis, the answer is usually yes.

When Ethan determines to accomplish his goal of reversing the decline in the Hawley family’s fortunef through will and effort—the method advised and exemplified by Captain Hawley—he avoids the irreversible corruption of spirit represented by betrayal, robbery, and suicide. But while passing Ethan by, the killing spirit touches his son Allen, a child of his decade who cheats on his essay without feeling remorse. Like other autobiographical novels by Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent may also reflect the struggles of Steinbeck’s immediate family across the eternal father-son divide.

Like other autobiographical novels by Steinbeck, ‘The Winter of Our Discontent’ may also reflect the struggles of Steinbeck’s immediate family across the eternal father-son divide.

This moral chain reaction can only be broken by an act of sacrifice, another motif found in books by Steinbeck in which Steinbeck quotes the Bible to suit his purpose. Ethan’s decline began before the novel with his father’s reckless spending and his own bad investments. Caught in a crisis by bad luck and bad behavior, he struggles from the first page with growing economic insecurity—a cycle that can’t be broken until Danny becomes the living sacrifice, leaving his land to Ethan  in an act of self-expiation and self-sacrifice (Danny characters occur in earlier novels by Steinbeck, but never as an existentially convincing as in The Winter of Our Discontent.)

Why Steinbeck Quotes Shakespeare in His Titles

When Steinbeck quotes Shakespeare’s Richard III in the novel’s title, what does he want us to consider as we read? Ethan’s bad behavior, obviously—although as suggested, Ethan more resembles Hamlet than Shakespeare’s malevolent monarch. But Steinbeck’s title for The Winter of Our Discontent reminds us of the separate dilemmas faced by Danny and Mary and Margie (note the biblical names) as well as by Ethan in his Hamlet-like anguish. The evil usurper who reveals his inner thoughts in Richard III opens uses our to denote his status as king. Steinbeck’s characters are contemporary Americans, and their thoughts—like ours—are much more about me than we.

The evil usurper who reveals his inner thoughts in ‘Richard III’  uses ‘our’ to denote his status as king. Steinbeck’s characters are contemporary Americans, and their thoughts—like ours—are much more about ‘me’ than ‘we.’

The our of Richard’s discontent in the play Steinbeck quotes is isolated, the political and psychological paranoia of a one-man murder ring. In The Winter of Our Discontent, the attitude of discontent is philosophical—an existential anxiety embodied in the protagonist, his spouse, his best friend, his would-be mistress, and in the personal life of the author as well. Discontent in the play Steinbeck quotes for a reason is individual. In The Winter of Our Discontent it is dramatized as  a condition of existence for everyone involved—including us.