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The Danger in Self-Sacrifice In his second novel To a God Unknown John Steinbeck explores his protagonists relationship with and worship of the land While the use of the land as a character in itself is nothing unusual in Steinbecks work this novel is somewhat different in that it explores a more mythological perspective on mans relationship to his land Joseph Waynes hunger for the land was a common sentiment among those who settled the west A yearning for land is in fact the dream upon which most of the Western United States was founded Where Joseph differs drastically from his pioneering brethren however is in his belief and participation in pagan forms of vegetative worship beginning with the deification of an oak tree and ending in Josephs self-sacrifice in an attempt to bring rain At the heart of Steinbecks portrayal of Joseph as a man ultimately disappointed by his unknown gods is a thinly veiled caution against reliance upon unseen forces and unproven rituals When Joseph Wayne arrives in the valley of Nuestra Senora he falls to the earth and makes love to the land He even sees the land as his wife This is the start of his tragic relationship with the land and its demands When he builds his house on his new homestead he chooses a site sheltered by an ancient gnarled oak tree From the start he feels an inexplicable affinity for the tree sensing some familiarity in it and defending it against the remarks of the lumber men who caution him its branches will fall upon his roof while he sleeps As he begins construction on his home a letter arrives bearing the news of his fathers death in which his fathers final words are I dont know whether Joseph can pick good land Ill have to go out there and seep16 Immediately Joseph focuses on the oak tree and is convinced it has become his father saying
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