Characterisation of John
John is a secondary character in the story. He is driving a pre-war Studebaker (l. 31) and is married to a woman named Elaine. (l. 123). He has two sons, John Jr. and Thomas (l. 108). The climax of the story reveals that he is presumably John Steinbeck, Kelley’s favourite author.
John’s outer characterisation tells us that he is “an elderly gentleman” (l. 33), “over sixty, wearing a wedding ring” (ll. 38-39), with “mousy grey hair, a sallow, lined complexion, like well-worn leather (…) He wore an open-neck checked shirt, and a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows.” (ll. 42-44). He is also a smoker (l. 43). Moreover, Kelley thinks to herself that John has rough hands, like a farm labourer (ll. 50-51), which could be a hint that he is not John Steinbeck but someone pretending to be him.
John’s inner characterisation is mostly constructed through his language and actions, particularly when he tells Kelley his life story.
Kelley first notices that John is “well-spoken and polite” (l. 39), traits that are proven throughout the story by his friendly yet respectful attitude towards Kelley. For example, he takes an interest in Kelley’s life and asks her what her major is (l. 51).
When John learns that Kelley studies modern American literature, he remarks: “ ‘There hasn’t been much of that lately. (…) But then times are a changin’. When I was at Stanford, there were no women on the campus, even at night.” (l. 53-55). John’s words indicate that he does not believe there are many new good writers. However, he seems to hope that will change, and he does not seem to be against women receiving a college education.
He states that he studied English literature at Stanford, but that he always regretted not getting his degree: “Never took my degree, which I still bitterly regret.” (ll. 59-60).
He asks Kelley to call him John and not “sir”, because “ ‘It’s bad enough being old, without being reminded of the fact by a young woman.’ ” (ll. 57-58). This portrays him as a person who rejects old age and is concerned with how women perceive him.
John also comes across as cultured, as he names a few writers and poets whose works are considered American classics. He directly references Mark Twain, Herman Melville, James Thurber, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (ll. 58-59) and Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow and William Faulkner (l. 64).
Moreover, John declares himself impressed by the fact that Kelley can quote The Grapes of Wrath and declares that he prefers Of Mice and Men (l. 70), showing that he is familiar with the works of John Steinbeck. His friendly attitude is emphasised again, as he compliments Kelley: “ ‘I don’t think you’ll be flunking your exams,’ said John with a chuckle” (l. 72).
As he begins to tell Kelley his life story, several things stand out about his personality. For example, he recalls how he tried to please his father by working at his farm in Monterey after Stanford. This shows that he cared about his father. However, the job did not suit him, and he was not afraid to give up...