Short Story #225: The Murder by John Steinbeck

Title:  The Murder

Author:  John Steinbeck


John Steinbeck Sketch - Image source:
Adjacent an old and ancient castle in California is an abandoned house owned by Jim Moore.  He regularly contemplates burning it down but finds that he can't.  Moore grew up in that house and knows everything about it.  He's owned it since his parents died.  He has made a successful enough life at the house with farmstock and such that he regularly visits the bar in Monterey every Saturday.  He marries a Slav woman, named Jelka whose father encourages him at the wedding to make sure he properly beats Jelka to keep her in line.  Moore is put off by this advice and proceeds to enjoy his life with his new wife.  Moore becomes frustrated with Jelka because though she is attentive to all of his needs, she does engage him or ever really talk to him.  She is docile and passive in this regard.  The lack of connection sends Jim back to his regular trips to bar and visiting with the women there.  On one Saturday night as he ventures into town, he encounters a neighbor who mentions that he found a dead cattle in the corner of Moore's property that had been clearly killed by human hands.  Moore sets out to explore his territory and eventually ends up back at his house wherein he finds Jelka in bed with her cousin.  He promptly shoots the man.  The local deputy sheriff arrives the next day and they discuss the issue.  Though Jim will be officially charged, he will not need to be brought in and he will be exonerated.  Before leaving, the deputy implores Moore to go easy on Jelka.  He takes Jelka into the barn and whips her.  When they come out, Moore tells her that he hurt her as bad as he could without killing her.  She asks if he's hungry and she goes to make breakfast.  After breakfast, he explains that they will go to town and get new lumber to build a new house.  


The layering of this story with the idea of a castle, the need for a new space, and the various ideas of property and ownership were well constructed.  However, the idea of property and ownership within this story were problematic, given that the protagonist is legally free to kill a man and nearly kill his wife.  I would love to see a more complicated meaning here that provides more criticism of Jim but the biggest commentary appears to be to take proper care of his property and that is just not really a message I can appreciate in any way given who is considered property.  

Short Story #225 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/28/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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