What is missing from American culture
In John Steinbeck’s novel Travels with Charlie
, he writes quite a bit about the disappearance of “roots” in American society. While visiting a family living in a mobile home, he becomes very intrigued about the idea that the children living in these trailers don’t necessarily have a true home, in the traditional sense. They don’t have a hometown or a childhood home that belonged to their family, but rather, they had this trailer that could be uprooted at any time. The man Steinbeck had dinner with seemed to argue that this isn’t a problem because as Americans, we don’t have roots. He says, “How many people today have what you are talking about? What roots are there in an apartment twelve floors up?” (Pg. 108) The current American way of life doesn’t permit us to form these types of roots that people have in other places.
While I don’t fully agree with this sentiment, there are a few aspects that I do agree with. I don’t think it is fair to say that all Americans lack these roots, but I do believe that we have developed a culture that discourages their continuation of formation. Steinbeck makes the point that as Americans, we are descended from people who were not content with their homeland, and by moving to The United States, cut their roots. He seems to think that since we are descended from these people, we have that same itch as well. I think that there is more to it than just a desire to cut ties with your previous country, but I also think it steams from the same place.
As he travels the country, Steinbeck often remarks about how everything is plastic and automated, like the soup machine, and how what used to be done by human hands, was now being done by machines. He also writes about how people are constantly throwing things away and using disposable items for convenience. This, to me, is directly related to the disappearance of roots.
Since The United States is a relatively new country, compared to the rest of the world, culture did not really evolve like it does in other places. Instead, it was synthesized. American culture became one of convenience and mass production. The product was important, but what was more important was how many could be produced in a short amount of time. Because of this, objects have less value, and we are more prone to just throw things away that we don’t need.
While objects are not the source of culture or roots, there is a lot that comes with not only creating said objects, but passing them on from generation to generation. This creates a connection though the family and stories are passed down through these things. Objects that were once important family heirlooms are now being sold on the side of the road because they are not the newest one of their kind on the market. This obsession with keeping up with the rest of the country, or even being better than them, is based on material goods and if something doesn’t help promote that, it gets tossed. With this throwaway culture that has developed, it is not about having things with sentimental value, but having the newest and best thing out there, and throwing away what is outdated.
While I don’t believe this alone creates this lack of roots for American people, I do think it plays a leading role. There are many other factors that contribute it, such as a sense of home and family, but I see this type of consumer culture being detrimental to the tending to roots that people have to their past and ancestors.