John Steinbeck, Charley and Ruby

Norman Rockwell‘s painting The Problem We All Live With” portrays Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old black girl walking past a crowd of angry white parents, students, and community members, escorted by U.S. Marshalls in charge of her protection and enforcing integration into an all-white elementary school in the Deep South of 1960.
That fact was also described by John Steinbeck in his 1962 travelogue “Travels with Charley: Search of America” where he wrote about his road trip, in a specially made camper nicknamed Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse.
He drove across the United States in the company of his faithful “blue” standard poodle, Charley.
He said:
I took only one companion on my journey, an old French gentleman poodle known as Charley. Actually, his name is Charles le Chien, he was born in Bercy, on the outskirts of Paris and trained in France and while he knows a little poodle-English he responds quickly only to commands in French.”
He was an elderly brown poodle (although Steinbeck said he was blue), with whom he had many mental conversations as a means of exploring his thoughts.

Towards the end of the trip Steinbeck visited New Orleans, where protesters showed up every day to shout their disapproval of school integration.
He talked about the Cheerleaders a group of racist mothers who gathered to scream unrepeatable invectives outside the school
“No newspaper printed the words these women shouted, but they only indicated that they were rude, or even obscene. On television the soundtrack was blurred or crowd noises were cut off. But I have heard the words, bestial, dirty and degenerate. In a long and unprotected life, I have already seen and heard the vomits of demonic humans. Why then did these screams fill me with awesome and nauseating pain? “

At the time he didn’t know the name of that brave little girl he watched walking up the school steps, but he vividly described what he witnessed that day.
Then two big black cars full of big men in light-colored felt hats pulled up in front of the school. … Four big federal sheriffs got out of the cars and from one they pulled out the smallest black girl ever, in a starched bright white dress, with new white shoes on her feet, so small they almost looked round. His face and her little legs were very black against all that white …. The child was not looking at the howling crowd but from her side, the whites of her eyes like that of a frightened fawn. … And the baby was even smaller because the men were so big”

The meeting depressed him so much that he left New Orleans as quickly as possible, so disgusted by the Cheerleaders that he couldn’t even go to a restaurant for lunch.

Il dipinto di Norman Rockwell The Problem We All Live With/Il problema con cui tutti viviamo” ritrae Ruby Bridges, una bambina di colore di sei anni che cammina davanti a una folla di rabbiosi genitori bianchi, studenti e membri della comunità, scortata dai Marshall degli Stati Uniti incaricato della sua protezione e di imporre l’integrazione in una scuola elementare di bianchi nel profondo sud del 1960-
Questo fatto è stato descritto anche da John Steinbeck nel suo diario di viaggio del 1962 “Travels with Charley: Search of America/ Viaggi con Charley. Alla ricerca dell’America” dove narrato il suo viaggio in un camper appositamente realizzato soprannominato Ronzinante, dal cavallo di Don Chisciotte.
Attraversò gli Stati Uniti in compagnia del suo fedele barboncino “blu“, Charley.

Disse: «…portai con me un solo compagno di viaggio, un vecchio barboncino francese chiamato Charley. In realtà il suo nome è Charles le Chien, è nato a Bercy, alla periferia di Parigi e si è formato in Francia e mentre conosce poco la lingua barboncina – inglese. risponde velocemente se i comandi sono in francese.”. Era un anziano barboncino marrone (anche se Steinbeck diceva che era blu), con il quale intratteneva molte conversazioni mentali come un mezzo per esplorare i suoi pensieri.
Verso la fine del viaggio Steinbeck visitò New Orleans, dove i manifestanti si presentavano ogni giorno per protestare contro l’integrazione scolastica.
Parlò delle Cheerleaders un gruppo di madri razziste che urlavano invettive irripetibili fuori dalla scuola
“Nessun giornale stampava le parole gridate da queste donne, ma indicavano solo che fossero sgarbate, o addirittura oscene. In televisione la colonna sonora era resa confusa o i rumori della folla erano tagliati. Ma io ho sentito le parole, bestiali, sporche e degenerate. In una vita lunga e non protetta, ho già visto e sentito i vomiti di esseri umani demoniaci. Perché allora queste urla mi hanno riempito di un dolore impressionante e nauseato?”
All’epoca non conosceva il nome di quella bambina coraggiosa che guardava salire i gradini della scuola, ma descrisse con vividezza quanto vide quel giorno.
Poi due grandi macchine nere piene di uomini grossi con cappelli di feltro chiari si fermarono davanti alla scuola. … Quattro grossi sceriffi federali scesero dalle macchine e da una di quelle estrassero la più piccola bambina nera che si sia mai vista, con un vestitino inamidato di un bianco brillante, con scarpine bianche nuove ai piedi, così piccole da sembrare quasi rotonde. La sua faccia e le sue gambette erano molto nere contro tutto quel bianco… . La bambina non guardava la folla ululante ma di lato, il bianco dei suoi occhi pareva quello di un cerbiatto spaventato. … e la bimba era ancora più minuscola perché gli uomini erano così grandi

L’incontro lo depresse così tanto che h si allontanò da New Orleans il più rapidamente possibile, così disgustato dalle Cheerleader che non riuscì neppure ad andare a mangiare in un ristorante.

56 thoughts on “John Steinbeck, Charley and Ruby

  1. Still holds me down with gloom to even imagine what a high level of mediocrity and denigration expressively came our of these mothers. I mean, mothers? Who have children too? Quite unbelievable. I like the way Steinbeck describes their ignorant and malefic clamours: But I have heard the words, bestial, dirty and degenerate. In a long and unprotected life, I have already seen and heard the vomits of demonic humans. 

    I don’t know why this incident disgusts me this much too. What sort of backwardness was that? To imagine such kind of people still exist only cut my bowels to pieces. Thanks for continuing to shed more light on this, Luisa. Racism must be uprooted from our society.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. […] Norman Rockwell‘s painting “The Problem We All Live With” portrays Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old black girl walking past a crowd of angry white parents, students, and community members, escorted by U.S. Marshalls in charge of her protection and enforcing integration into an all-white elementary school in the Deep South of 1960.That fact was also described […]John Steinbeck, Charley and Ruby […]

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s weird. A guy I follow posted the other day, about how certain states are bringing laws to protect creationism, and it makes you wonder, did anything really change? It’s still a bunch of ignorant people trying (loudly) to impose their prejudice on education.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. It is high time racism changes, I mean seriously we have reach heights even technological the why in the world are we still so behind with our mindsets. We all have the same red bloods inside us then why so much differences. Most importantly what good is our education if we still think so backwardly? It’s high time for the world to change for good. Thank you dear Luisa for shedding more lights to such matters.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful post Luisa. I am huge fan of Steinbeck but that book is not one i’ve read so I didn’t know he was there that day and wrote so powerfully of it from the sickness of his heart. THank you for this post,. xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you.
    It is a shame that we have not come as far from that attitude as civilisation might hope.
    Indeed in the last few years it has felt like much of the west in particular has gone backwards.
    That we could all remember Rumi,
    I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.

    Like

  7. John Steibeck ha descritto nei suoi libri l’America più profanda attraversata da ingiustizie e soprusi. Il suolibro più noto, Furrore (The Grapes of Wrath) narra i diseredati finiti schiavi di poche persone senza scrupoli. Di certo è il suo miglior romanzo.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The only Steinbeck book I have yet to read, but will do so now. I was a kid in the 1950s, growing up in Fort Worth Texas. Although I never witnessed this type of racism, I would bet it was there. My family showed no signs of it, so I was happily ignorant of the actions of others. I do remember a trip to a department store downtown with my grandfather, a WW1 vet. I was thirsty so I drank from a fountain. There was a sign above that said ” Colored Only,” I was five and couldn’t quite read it. My grandfather laughed and said, ” young man, you just broke a lot of rules, buts that’s okay, we are all the same in Gods eyes.” I carried that with me for 73 years. I have never seen our country so divided and adversarial toward each other. I blame our government more than our population. Lines of division are clear as daylight and agitator from all races are using this as an advantage to separate what has taken decades to repair. Steinbeck was correct in his disgust. The deep south is still trapped in that mindset. Thank you for your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this wonderful comment. That memory is fantastic and the reflections you make on the current situation are very profound,
      Thanks again, with all my heart🙏🙏🙏

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s