Steinbeck Blog Prompt #2: Identity and Community

This is the second in our series of three prompts, designed to help inform our upcoming Steinbeck Project workshop. The Cal Shakes New Works/New Communities program would love for you to leave your input in the “comments” section below, via prose, poetry, links to video or audio, and whatever else you can think of. Posting your comments on an individual prompt blog during its first week gets you entered in a drawing to win a prize*, and all comments are eligible for publication in Cal Shakes newsletters, on our website, and/or in the program for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven during our 2010 season.**

And so now, without further ado, here’s your second prompt, written by Trish Tillman, Cal Shakes’ Director of Artistic Learning and one of the developers of this fall’s Pastures of Heaven residency at Oakland’s Reems Academy.


As we develop our residency work in schools, one of the most important things that our students are trying to understand is the idea of identity in their own lives, and how one’s personality is shaped in relationship with others. If you can think back to middle or high school—or if you are that age now—you know how important social interactions can be to how you are perceived, and how you think about yourself.

One of the main themes of Steinbeck’s work is how complicated social interactions can be between disparate groups of people living in the same place. Much like a neighborhood or a school, his characters come together with certain expectations or desires about how they will live in the community in which they find themselves. When you enter a new group for the first time, what do you expect? How do you begin to understand those around you?


*Prize still to be determined. Please leave your email address somewhere in your comment!!
**Don’t worry, we’ll ask your permission first.
Art courtesy of an anonymous commenter on last week’s blog.

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4 Responses to Steinbeck Blog Prompt #2: Identity and Community

  1. Nicholas says:

    >Listening…Every group of people is so different and finds things funny. It can be tough to remember that some things are only funny (or even appropriate) to certain groups of people.For example, the video I posted in the previous comment would have been hilarious to some of my friends, but a complete red herring, here. Some groups are open for new people, others stay rooted in their inside jokes which make it difficult to develop a rapport.It can get difficult, even if you are in a circle and are trying to introduce a friend to your friends. How much do you balance talking to just your friend? How much introduction do you give? introduce his name? offer common areas of interest? what's appropriate? What makes it more interesting for me is when I get the chance to develop a one-on-one relationship with someone in the group…then slowly spread out to the other members.When entering these scenarios, I tend to expect nothing. It's more fun that way. Sometimes you hit things off and it's awesome. Other times it's completely awkward, but at least you get a story out of it.

  2. Carrie says:

    >Acceptance. People of all ages long to enter a group and feel that instant connection that they do not have to change to be liked. When entering a new group, every possible insecurity emerges and all anyone wants is to be liked. It is the accepting individuals that can achieve change for the better. Young people show these feelings daily throughout adolescence. However, it is human nature to feel this no matter how old you are. Much like Cal Shakes' mission statement, all ages and circumstances deserve and need acceptance from the people that surround them.

  3. marshlady says:

    >that's so great that you can talk to the students in the program about their self identity and their identity within the group, hardest part about being a kid I recall. Having self esteem and also wanting connection. And not blurring those lines. hard for adults too!As far as entering groups, well not to be cliche…but it's complicated of course. groups that are competing for something have a harder time getting along. Propinquity and time tend to be best medicine. We are all more alike than different. All that jazz.

  4. Chris Kaman says:

    >It was early, I was late, and nobody was waiting. I walked in with every eye in the room draped upon me, and I wore them proudly. They saw me as the new kid, the outsider, guilty until proven innocent. I'm not the best looking kid, and I know that — but that doesn't mean I'm not the best. I'm here in this school because Dad drinks too much and Mom doesn't drink enough. Mom made me leave the town I grew up in because my parents couldn't make it work, and now I'm supposed to make it work with a bunch of kids that look at me like I just escaped the zoo. These kids don't know me — they never will. I know myself, and they'd hate me. Heck, I hate me. Don't get me wrong, I love me, but I spend a lot of time with me, and if you spend enough time with someone you're bound to hate them. I guess that's why I'm here and Dad's there, and why all these kids wouldn't dare put in the time to get to know me.

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