ENG102 Detective Work John Steinbeck The Harness Story Review This assignment has two things: 1. Detective work (in handout).2. Write a portrait of the pro

ENG102 Detective Work John Steinbeck The Harness Story Review This assignment has two things: 1. Detective work (in handout).2. Write a portrait of the protagonist in the story, including biographical information (who is he?), appearance information ( what does he look like?); personality (what kind of man is he?). A short essay, supporting what you say with quotations from the story, and I already did some of it and want you to complete it AND WANT IT TO BE A PAGE AND A HALF. Scanned with CamScanner
John Steinbeck
The Harness
(from John Steinbeck, The Long Valley. New York: The Viking Press, 1964,
sixth printing)
PETER RANDALL was one of the most highly respected farmers of Monterey County. Once, before he
was to make a little speech at a Masonic convention, the brother who introduced him referred to him as
an example for young Masons of California to emulate. He was nearing fifty; his manner was grave and
restrained, and he wore a carefully tended beard. From every gathering he reaped the authority that
belongs to the bearded man. Peter’s eyes were grave, too; blue and grave almost to the point of
sorrowfulness. People knew there was force in him, but force held caged. Sometimes, for no apparent
reason, his eyes grew sullen and mean, like the eyes of a bad dog; but that look soon passed, and the
restraint and probity came back into his face. He was tall and broad. He held his shoulders back as
though they were braced, and he sucked in his stomach like a soldier. Inasmuch as farmers are usually
slouchy men, Peter gained an added respect because of his posture.
Concerning Peter’s wife, Emma, people generally agreed that it was hard to see how such a little skinand-bones woman could go on living, particularly when she was sick most of the time. She weighed
pounds. At forty-five, her face was as wrinkled and brown as that of an old, old woman, but her dark
eyes were feverish with a determination to live. She was a proud woman, who complained very little.
Her father bad been a thirty-third degree Mason and Worshipful Master of the Grand Lodge of
California. Before he died he had taken a great deal of interest in Peter’s Masonic career.
Once a year Peter went away for a week, leaving his wife alone on the farm. To neighbors who called to
keep her company she invariably explained, “He’s away on a business trip.”
Each time Peter returned from a business trip, Emma was ailing for a month or two, and this was hard
on Peter, for Emma did her own work and refused to hire a girl. When she was ill, Peter had to do the
The Randall ranch lay across the Salinas River, next to the foothills. It was an ideal balance of bottom
and upland. Forty-five acres of rich level soil brought from the cream of the county by the river in old
times and spread out as flat as a board; and eighty acres of gentle upland for hay and orchard. The white
farmhouse was as neat and restrained as its owners. The immediate yard was fenced, and in the garden,
under Emma’s direction, Peter raised button dahlias and immortelles, carnations and pinks.
From the front porch one could look down over the flat to the river with its sheath of willows, and
cotton- woods, and across the river to the beet fields, and past the fields to the bulbous dome of the
Salinas courthouse. Often in the afternoon Emma sat in a rocking-chair on the front porch, until the
breeze drove her in. She knitted constantly, looking up now and then to watch Peter working on the flat
or in the orchard, or on the slope below the house.
The Randall ranch was no more encumbered with mortgage than any of the others in the valley. The
crops, judiciously chosen and carefully tended, paid the interest, made a reasonable living and left a few
hundred dollars every year toward paying off the principal. It was no wonder that Peter Randall was
respected by his neighbors, and that his seldom spoken words were given attention even when they
were about the weather or the way things were going. Let Peter say, “I’m going to kill a pig Saturday,”
and nearly every one of his hearers went home and killed a pig on Saturday. They didn’t know why, but
if Peter Randall was going to kill a pig, it seemed live a good, safe, conservative thing to do.
Peter and Emma were married for twenty-one years. They collected a houseful of good furniture, a
number of framed pictures, vases of all shapes, and books of a sturdy type. Emma had no children. The
house was unscarred, uncarved, unchalked. On the front and back porches footscrapers and thick cocoafiber mats kept dirt out of the house.
In the intervals between her illnesses, Emma saw to it that the house was kept up. The hinges of doors
and cupboards were oiled, and no screws were gone from the catches. The furniture and woodwork
were freshly varnished once a year. Repairs were usually made after Peter came home from his yearly
business trips.
Whenever the word went around among the farms that Emma was sick again, the neighbors waylaid the
doctor as he drove by on the river road.
“Oh, I guess she’ll be all right,” he answered their questions. “She’ll have to stay in bed for a couple of
The good neighbors took cakes to the Randall farm, and they tiptoed into the sickroom, where the little
skinny bird of a woman lay in a tremendous walnut bed. She looked at them with her bright little dark
“Wouldn’t you like the curtains up a little, dear?” they asked.
“No, thank you. The light worries my eyes.”
“Is there anything we can do for you?”
“No, thank you. Peter does for me very well.”
“Just remember, if there’s anything you think of—” Emma was such a tight woman. There was nothing
you could do for her when she was ill, except to take pies and cakes to Peter. Peter would be in the
kitchen, wearing a neat, clean apron. He would be filling a hot water bottle or making junket.
And so, one fall, when the news traveled that Emma was down, the farm-wives baked for Peter and
prepared to make their usual visits.
Mrs. Chappell, the next farm neighbor, stood on the river road when the doctor drove by. “How’s Emma
Randall, doctor?”
“I don’t think she’s so very well, Mrs. Chappell. I think she’s a pretty sick woman.”
Because to Dr. Marn anyone who wasn’t actually a corpse was well on the road to recovery, the word
went about among the farms that Emma Randall was going to die.
It was a long, terrible illness. Peter himself gave enemas and carried bedpans. The doctor’s suggestion
that a nurse be employed met only beady, fierce refusal in the eyes of the patient; and, ill as she was,
her demands were respected. Peter fed her and bathed her, and made up the great walnut bed. The
bedroom curtains remained drawn.
It was two months before the dark, sharp bird eyes veiled, and the sharp mind retired into
unconsciousness. And only then did a nurse come to the house. Peter was lean and sick himself, not far
from collapse. The neighbors brought him cakes and pies, and found them uneaten in the kitchen when
they called again.
Mrs. Chappell was in the house with Peter the afternoon Emma died. Peter became hysterical
immediately. Mrs. Chappell telephoned the doctor, and then she called her husband to come and help
her, for Peter was wailing like a crazy man, and beating his bearded cheeks with his fists. Ed Chappell
was ashamed when he saw him.
Peter’s beard was wet with his tears. His loud sobbing could be heard throughout the house. Sometimes
he sat by the bed and covered his head with a pillow, and sometimes he paced the floor of the bedroom
bellowing like a calf. When Ed Chappell self-consciously put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Come on,
Peter, come on, now,” in a helpless voice, Peter shook his hand off. The doctor drove out and signed the
When the undertaker came, they had a devil of a time with Peter. He was half mad. He fought them
when they tried to take the body away. It was only after Ed Chappell and the undertaker held him down
while the doctor stuck him with a hypodermic, that they were able to remove Emma.
The morphine didn’t put Peter to sleep. He sat hunched in the corner, breathing heavily and staring at
the floor.
“Who’s going to stay with him? The doctor asked. “Miss Jack?” to the nurse.
“I couldn’t handle him, doctor, not alone.”
“Will you stay, Chappell?”
“Sure, I’ll stay.”
“Well, look. Here are some triple bromides. If he gets going again, give him one of these. And if they
don’t work, here’s some sodium amytal. One of these capsules will calm him down.”
Before they went away, they helped the stupefied Peter into the sitting-room and laid him gently down
on a sofa. Ed Chappell sat in an easy-chair and watched him. The bromides and a glass of water were
on the table beside him.
The little sitting-room was clean and dusted. Only that morning Peter had swept the floor with pieces of
damp newspaper. Ed built a little fire in the grate, and put on a couple of pieces of oak when the flames
were well started. The dark had come early. A light rain spattered against the windows when the wind
drove it. Ed trimmed the kerosene lamps and turned the flames low. In the grate the blaze snapped and
crackled and the flames curled like hair over the oak. For a long time Ed sat in his easy-chair watching
Peter where he lay drugged on the couch. At last Ed dozed off to sleep.
It was about ten o’clock when he awakened. He started up and looked toward the sofa.Peter was sitting
up, looking at him. Ed’s hand went out toward the bromide bottle, but Peter shook his head.
“No need to give me anything, Ed. I guess, the doctor slugged me pretty hard, didn’t he? I feel, all right
now, only a little dopey.”
“If you’ll just take one of these, you’ll get some sleep.”
“I don’t want sleep.” He fingered his draggled beard and then stood up. “I’ll go out and wash my face,
then I’ll feel better.”
Ed heard him running water in the kitchen. In a moment he came back into the living-room, still drying
his face on a towel. Peter was smiling curiously. It was an expression Ed had never seen on him before, a
quizzical, wondering smile. “I guess I kind of broke loose when she died, didn’t I?” Peter said.
“Well—yes, you carried on some.”
“It seemed like something snapped inside of me,” Peter explained. “Something like a suspender strap. It
made me all come apart. I’m all right, now, though.”
Ed looked down at the floor and saw a little brown spider crawling, and stretched out his foot and
stomped it.
Peter asked suddenly, “Do you believe in an after life?”
Ed Chappell squirmed. He didn’t like to talk about such things, for to talk about them was to bring them
up in his mind and think about them. “Well, yes. I suppose if you come right down to it, I do.”
“Do you believe that somebody that’s—passed on— can look down and see what we’re doing?”
“Oh, I don’t know as I’d go that far—I don’t know.”
Peter went on as though he were talking to himself. “Even if she could see me, and I didn’t do what she
wanted, she ought to feel good because I did it when she was here.It ought to please her that she made
a good man of me. If I wasn’t a good man when she wasn’t here, that would prove she did it all,
wouldn’t it? I was a good man, wasn’t I, Ed?”
“What do you mean, ‘was’?”
“Well, except for one week a year I was good. I don’t know what I’ll do now. ..”His face grew
angry.“Except one thing.” He stood up and stripped off his coat and his shirt. Over his underwear there
was a web harness that pulled his shoulders back. He unhooked the harness and threw it off. Then he
dropped his trousers, disclosing a wide elastic belt. He shucked this off over his feet, and then he
scratched his stomach luxuriously before he put on his clothes again. He smiled at Ed, the strange,
wondering smile, again. “I don’t know how she got me to do things, but she did. She didn’t seem to boss
me, but she always made me do things. You know, I don’t think I believe in an after-life. When she was
alive, even when she was sick, I had to do things she wanted, but just the minute she died, it was–why
like that harness coming off! I couldn’t stand it. It was all over. I’m going to get used to going without
that harness.” He shook his finger in Ed’s direction. “My stomach’s going to stick out,” he said
positively. “I’m going to let it stick out. Why, I’m fifty years old.”
Ed didn’t like that. He wanted to get away. This sort of thing wasn’t very decent. “If you’ll just take one
of these, you’ll get some sleep,” he said weakly.
Peter had not put his coat on. He was sitting on the sofa in an open shirt. “I don’t want to sleep. I want
to talk. I guess I’ll have to put that belt and harness on for the funeral, but after that I’m going to burn
them. Listen, I’ve got a bottle of whiskey in the barn. I’ll go get it.”
“Oh no,” Ed protested quickly. “I couldn’t drink now, not at a time like this.”
Peter stood up. “Well, I could. You can sit and watch me if you want. I tell you, it’s all over.” He went out
the door, leaving Ed Chappell unhappy and scandalized. It was only a moment before he was back. He
started talking as he came through the doorway with the whiskey. “I only got one thing in my life, those
trips. Emma was a pretty bright woman. She knew I’d’ve gone crazy if I didn’t get away once a year. God,
how she worked on my conscience when I came back!” His voice lowered confidentially. “You know
what I did on those trips?”
Ed’s eyes were wide open now. Here was a man he didn’t know, and he was becoming fascinated. He
took the glass of whiskey when it was handed to him. “No, what did you do?”
Peter gulped his drink and coughed, and wiped his mouth with his hand. “I got drunk,” he said. “I went
to fancy houses in San Francisco. I was drunk for a week, and I went to a fancy house every night.” He
poured his glass full again. “I guess Emma knew, but she never said anything. I’d’ve busted if I hadn’t got
Ed Chappell sipped his whiskey gingerly. “She always said you went on business.”
Peter looked at his glass and drank it, and poured it full again. His eyes had begun to shine. “Drink your
drink, Ed. I know you think it isn’t right—so soon, but no one’ll know but you and me. Kick up the fire.
I’m not sad.”
Chappell went to the grate and stirred the glowing wood until lots of sparks flew up the chimney like
little shining birds. Peter filled the glasses and retired to the sofa again.When Ed went back to the chair
he sipped from his glass and pretended he didn’t know it was filled up. His cheeks were flushing. It
didn’t seem so terrible, now, to be drinking. The afternoon and the death had receded into an indefinite
“Want some cake?” Peter asked. “There’s half a dozen cakes in the pantry.”
“No, I’ don’t think I will thank you for some.”
“You know,” Peter confessed, “I don’t think I’ll eat cake again. For ten years,every time Emma was sick,
people sent cakes. It was nice of ‘em, of course, only now cake means sickness to me. Drink your drink.”
Something happened in the room. Both men looked up, trying to discover what it was. The room was
somehow different than it had been a moment before. Then Peter smiled sheepishly. “It was that
mantel clock stopped. I don’t think I’ll start it any more. I’ll get a little quick alarm clock that ticks fast.
That clack-clack- clack is too mournful.” He swallowed his whiskey. “I guess you’ll be telling around that
I’m crazy, won’t you?”
Ed looked up from his glass, and smiled and nodded. “No, I will not. I can see pretty much how you feel
about things. I didn’t know you wore that harness and belt.”
“A man ought to stand up straight,”Peter said. “I’m a natural sloucher?’ Then he exploded: “I’m a natural
fool! For twenty years I’ve been pretending I was a wise, good man—except for that one week a year.”
He said loudly, “Things have been dribbled to me. My life’s been dribbled out to me. Here, let me fill
your glass. I’ve got another bottle out in the barn, way down under a pile of sacks.”
Ed held out his glass to be filled. Peter went on, “I thought how it would be nice to have my whole river
flat in sweet peas. Think how it’d be to sit on the front porch and see all those acres of blue and pink,
just solid. And when the wind came up over them, think of the big smell. A big smell that would almost
knock you over.”
“A lot of men have gone broke on sweet peas. ‘Course you get a big price for the seed, but too many
things can happen to your crop.”
“I don’t give a damn,” Peter shouted. “I want a lot of everything. I want forty acres of color and smell. I
want fat women, with breasts as big as pillows. I’m hungry, I tell you, I’m hungry for everything, for a lot
of everything.”
Ed’s face became grave under the shouting. “If you’d just take one of these, you’d get some sleep.”
Peter looked ashamed. “I’m all right. I didn’t mean to yell like that. I’m not just thinking these things for
the first time. I been thinking about them for years, the way a kid thinks of vacation. I was always afraid
I’d be too old. Or that I’d go first and miss everything. But I’m only fifty, I’ve got plenty of vinegar left. I
told Emma about the sweet peas, but she wouldn’t let me. I don’t know how she made me do things,”
he said wonderingly. “I can’t remember. She had a way of doing it. But she’s gone. I can feel she’s gone
just like that harness is gone. I’m going to slouch, Ed—slouch all over the place. I’m going to track dirt
into the house. I’m going to get a big fat housekeeper—a big fat one from San Francisco.I’m going to
have a bottle of brandy on the shelf all the time.”
Ed Chappell stood up and. stretched his arms over his bead. “I guess I’ll go home now, if you feel all
right. I got to get some sleep. You better wind that clock, Peter. It don’t do a clock any good to stand not
The day after the funeral Peter Randall went to work on his farm. The Chappells, who lived on the next
place, saw the lamp in his kitchen long before daylight, and they saw his lantern cross the yard to the
barn half an hour before they even got up.
Peter pruned his orchard in three days. He worked from first light until he couldn’t see the twigs against
the sky any more. Then he started to shape the big piece of river flat. He plowed and rolled and
harrowed. Two strange men dressed in boots and riding breeches came out and looked at his land. They
felt the dirt with their fingers and ran a post-hole digger deep down under the surface, and when they
went away they took little paper bags of the dirt with them.
Ordinarily, before planting time, the farmers did a good deal of visiting back and forth. They sat on their
haunches, picking up handsful of dirt and breaking little clods between their fingers. They discussed
markets and crops, recalled other years when beans had done well in a good market, and other years
when field peas didn’t bring enough to pay for the seed hardly. After a great number of these
discussions it usually happened that all the farmers planted the same things. There were certain men
whose ideas carried weight. If Peter Randall or Clark DeWitt thought they would put in pink beans and
barley, most of the crops would turn out to be pink beans and barley that year; for, since such men were
respected and fairly successful,it was conceded that their plans must be based on something besides
chance choice. It was generally believed but never stated that Peter Randall and Clark DeWitt had extra
reasoning powers and special prophetic knowledge.
When the usual visits started, it was seen that a change had taken place in Peter Randall. He sat on his
plow and talked pleasantly enough. He said he hadn’t decided yet what to plant, but he said it in such a
guilty way that it was plain he didn’t intend to tell. When he had rebuffed a few inquiries, the visits to
his place stopped and the farmers went over in a body to Clark DeWitt. Clark was putting in Chevalier
barley. His decision dictated the major part of the planting in the vicinity.
But because the questions stopped, the interest did not. Men driving by the forty-…
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