American Parables (River of Shadows and Train Dreams)

River of Shadows

Robert Reich’s parable of Mob at the Gates shows us that power can get to our heads and since we are all trying to achieve the idealized success story of the American Dream, we “isolate ourselves from the rest of the globe” (Reich, 3) in order to protect our jobs, opportunities, and success. Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows exemplifies this same idea as Solnit describes the Golden Age of San Francisco. “The city was growing, but it was growing apart…many had woken from that [American] dream to the bitterness of institutionalized inequality, declining wages and opportunities, rising land prices and working hours.” (Solnit, 165) Solnit observes the Chinese immigrant laborers who were viewed by Americans (who were ironically immigrants or children of immigrants too) “thieves of jobs that rightly belonged to white men” (Solnit, 166). We can observe from both these examples that when we’re working toward success or are successful, we don’t want to lose our foothold and create the isolation between us and “them out there” (Reich, 3) rather than trying to disassemble the hierarchy between the successful and those still working towards it.

Train Dreams

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is a great example of Robert Reich’s parable of the Benevolent Community. The concept of the Benevolent Community is that neighbors and friends help those in need through “American’s essential generosity and compassion toward those in need”. (Reich, 3) The protagonist of Train Dreams, Robert Grainier, sits alone in his cabin only accompanied by the loud howls of wolves and coyotes that draw closely to him until he sees the wolf-girl (who we assume to be his long-lost daughter who was presumably raised by wolves after she was “orphaned”). “She lay there on her side panting, a clearly human creature with the delicate structure of a little girl, but she was bent at the arms and the legs…with the action of her lungs there came a whistling, a squeak, like a frightened pup’s.” (Johnson, 100) He fashions a splint for the wolf-girl and cares for her as best he can despite his fear and disbelief of the wolf-girl and the confusing possibility that she could be his daughter, Kate. Thus his care for her is and example of the Benevolent Community.