Steinbeck, Ricketts, Jung

A Presentation to The Monterey Peninsula Friends of C. G. Jung : June 4, 2005

Steinbeck, Ricketts, Jung
A Presentation to The Monterey Peninsula Friends of C. G. Jung

Monterey, California
June 4, 2005
Wesley W. Stillwagon
Copyright © 2005, Wesley W. Stillwagon, Sr. All rights reserved.


In 1965 I was a Technician for RCA working on electronic systems for weather, communication, and military satellites. One day during a break from the job, I was reading the book on Zen by Suzuki. Seeing this, an acquaintance suggested that I should study the works of Carl Jung.  Because I wasn’t a student of psychology or philosophy and the only college credit I had acquired came to me from Navy equivalency examinations, I never heard of Jung. I interpreted the fellow’s spoken suggestion as Carl Y-o-u-n-g. I spent a couple of months looking for books by Carl Y-o-u-n-g. After wandering into the Princeton University Store, I asked the clerk if there were any books by Carl Jung and she suggested that I turn around and when I did I faced shelves of Jung’s Collected Works with their black dust covers. Reading the first book began my life-long study of Jung and now I own his complete collected works. I am a better human being because I found Jung.

I’ve been a Steinbeck fan so long that I cannot recall what book that I read first. I only know that he wrote in a way that seemed to be courageous and clear. As a result I was always quickly hooked with his writing, so much so that I still have difficulty putting a book down until I finish. Like listening to good music, I would get caught-up in his story and I gave no mind to examining his writing foundation, technique, his sources, and so forth. It was many years before I realized that there seemed to be some parallels between what Steinbeck wrote and Jungian thought. After a few years of casually examining this theory I happily discovered that there indeed was a direct link from biographies and other sources.

For some reason I connected very strongly with the Steinbeck books Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. The characters and the culture on the Row, as portrayed by Steinbeck, were very inviting to me. While reading those books I found myself wishing that I were there at the time and that I was a part of the neighborhood. Both books remain tonics for me and reading them always leaves me feeling very happy.  At some point I awakened to the fact that Steinbeck’s “Doc” character was based somewhat on a real person, Edward Flanders Ricketts. On Cannery Row Ed Ricketts had the respect of nearly everyone, the Cannery Workers, Neighbors, the Bums, Intellectuals, Whores, Madams, Merchants and children. Such wide respect and admiration is very unusual so I decided that this is a character that deserved more of my attention and study. During my discovery I learned that Ricketts also was familiar the works of Doctor Jung.

My purpose here today is to share with you some of what I learned in my examination of the topic of Steinbeck, Ricketts, and Jung. I believe further study of the intellectual relationship may be important to assuring their legacy and to perpetuate the Cannery Row story for the benefit of future Steinbeck fans. I don’t expect complete agreement with my opinions, observations, and conclusions, and I believe this is a good thing. If I am able to get others to think about what I say, even if it results in differing or outright opposing opinions then I’ve achieved my goal for today.

Oh,  there’s one more character that should be considered. Some of you Monterey residents may recognize her, some may not. Some may recognize her but not admit it. She will be mentioned later in the presentation.

Cannery Row and The Phalanx

As described by Steinbeck in his wonderful book, Cannery Row, was <QUOTE>“... a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky-tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches," by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing." <UNQUOTE> For those of you who have not read Cannery Row and the sequel, "Sweet Thursday", the apparently negative description of the "Row" may mask the love that Steinbeck had for the place and its people.

It is hard to imagine that the Row could be a more complex place than Steinbeck described in very contradictory and abstract terms, but it was. According to the description of the place in Steinbeck's, Sweet Thursday, <QUOTE> "To the casual observer Cannery Row might have seemed a series of selfish units, each functioning alone with no reference to the others. There was little visible connection between (the bordellos), La Ida's and the Bear Flag, the grocery (still known as Lee Chong's Heavenly Flower Grocery), the Palace Flophouse, and Western Biological Laboratories. The fact is that each was bound by gossamer threads of steel to all the others--hurt one, and you aroused vengeance in all. Let sadness come to one, and all wept." <UNQUOTE> While I know that Steinbeck’s portrayal of the Row was romanticized and idealized, from what I read the threads of steel existed at least until Ricketts died. The threads of steel described by Steinbeck do make the Row more complex. The binding between apparently independent units was a theme to be found in almost all Steinbeck works as well as that of Ed Ricketts with his description of tide pool life in his still popular, “Between Pacific Tides.”

The unconscious impact on behavior of the individual units as Steinbeck refers is what he called the phalanx. I believe there are few things in this life more worthy of scholarly examination than the phenomena. It seems based somewhat on South African philosopher Ian Smuts description of holism.

Once you understand the concept, you will recognize that it appears in both his fiction and non-fiction. The book “In Dubious Battle” always comes to mind as a clear example of phalanx in play. A lesser-known Steinbeck non-fiction work, “Bombs Away, the Story of a Bomber Team” includes a description of the phalanx in the training and development of flying teams of the US Army Air Corps. The concept is not something he acquired from Ricketts but came to him as a result of his awakening to a thread connecting what he previously thought were random notes that he kept in a cigar box over the years. When I read this in Benson’s biography I thought “what a great example of Jung’s Intuition”. Interestingly, the awakening happened during the struggle and crisis that he was facing regarding the eminent loss of his mother. In Ed Ricketts’ terms this would have been a ‘break through’ event, one that may precede or accompany a step in personal growth. Jungian analysts recognize how a personal tragedy can awaken the mind’s eye so-to-speak to a new perspective, an epiphany, if you will. 

In a letter to George Albee, Steinbeck wrote:

"We know that with certain arrangement of atoms we might have what we would call a bar of iron. Certain other arrangements of atoms plus a mysterious principle make a living cell. Now the living cell is very sensitive to outside stimuli or tropisms. A further arrangement of cells and a very complex one may make a unit we call a man. That has been our final unit. But there have been mysterious things which could not be explained if man is the final unit. He also arranges himself into larger units, which I called the phalanx. The phalanx has its own memory--memory of the great tides when the moon was close, memory of starvations when the food in the world was exhausted. Memory of methods when numbers of his units had to be destroyed for the good of the whole, memory of the history of itself."

Steinbeck  observed that:

• a group, or society takes on a psychology and corresponding behavior that may be quite disparate from that of its individual members;
• the group psychology is a (sometimes antagonistic) counterpoint to individual psychology.
• the group psychology can cause them to behave in a manner that its individual members wouldn't dream of;

Here I are my own observations:

• The group psychology may have a reaction similar to what we Jungians call a shadow reaction normally appearing between two individuals, except in this case it is the group against the individual or class.
• The higher the adult development of the individual members, the less potential for negative or destructive influences of the phalanx.
I am sure that many of us Jungians will recognize the problem that the negative phalanx influence would be to a person seeking individuation or individualism. Many of us have witnessed the anger directed toward someone wishing to go their own way in a fanatic driven mob. Jung stated that, “Every fanatic harbors a seed of doubt.” I’d say that the individual seeking his or her own path may be unconsciously raising a mirror to this doubt and causing uncomfortable emotions in mob leadership. 

I'd like to note that Steinbeck linked vitality with individualism, a patently Jungian concept. If a human's behavior is not self-willed, but willed by the phalanx, there is really no vitality, no individualism, no growth enhancing experiences. Yet he also observed that man is a lonely animal when cut off from the phalanx. I believe that Jung would mention the third dimension of one’s Self at this point.

Just think of the potential, both good and evil, that a person or organization would have with a real understanding of Steinbeck’s Phalanx concept. On the positive side, they would know that a team, group, or mob is able to accomplish much more considering apparent sum of their resources when it includes the selfless contribution of psychologically mature or individuated people.

I had a demonstration of the strength of the phalanx upon four people (including me) by a man at RCA in the early 1960s. He recently returned from an assignment in India and brought back the demonstration. I never forgot it.

The threads of steel binding the individual units on Cannery Row could be considered the phalanx and I believe that Steinbeck’s concept was built upon ideas formed in studying Jung’s collective unconscious.
According to biographer Benson, Steinbeck was particularly interested in Jung’s Collective Unconscious. I know that considerable danger exists in phalanx-influenced mobs populated with humans of lower adult maturity levels. While I believe this may be a tacitly understood truth to the thinkers among us, until you truly understand Steinbeck’s phalanx, the source of the behavior or the extent of its violence may seem without reason. Such a mob would include members who are much less resistant to the influence of the negative phalanx or influences of the collective unconscious. It is not simply related to poor cognitive abilities or weakness in judgment, it is because of weaker resistance to unconscious influences.

In volume 10 of his Collective Works “Civilization in Transition”, Jung really pounces on the Nazis in 1945 and the impact the little paperhanger had on the German People. This was a perfect example of the influence of the negative phalanx in Steinbeck terms, mass hysteria, or mass hypnosis.
In volume 7 Jung mentions the danger of uniting ones-self with the Shadow or dark side of the unconscious. He also mentions the conflict and difficulty an individual faces in avoiding this. And elsewhere in Jung’s works he writes that individuation is a process of growing away from the unconscious, recognizing the individual gifts, and developing them.

I laugh when I read that some people think that Jung was a Nazi or that Steinbeck was a Communist. They both respected and honored the individual so much that I am sure that they would have been executed in Nazi Germany or in Stalin’s Bolshevik Russia.
Cannery Row’s complexity, especially as it relates to the phalanx tells me that understanding it’s elements, dynamics, and forces may be helpful in providing lessons for individual growth, interpersonal effectiveness, teaming, and for the benefit of communities in general.

Gathering Places

From what I read about Cannery Row in the 1930s there were many informal and friendly get-to-gethers where among other things, there were discussions about a wide range of topics. Sometimes the friends met in Ricketts’ Lab and at other times, the loosely defined group met elsewhere. My friend Jim Kent, also a member of the Third Lab Team, in a concept he calls “Social Capital” defined such get-to-gether locations as “Gathering Places,” Those of you who read Ed Larsh’s “Doc’s Lab, Myth and Legends of Cannery Row,” will remember the Story of Jim and the success he had in Minturn Colorado using concepts from Steinbeck and Ricketts. He has had many more successes with his concepts and techniques in projects around the world.

Jim’s Social Capital: <QUOTE>“… refers to the features of a community that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.  It comprises the community of people in a self-defined geographic area; their survival networks of friends, families and associates; and their living patterns, routines and approach in which they solve issues (e.g. civic culture).  Communities with an intact, undepleted stock of social capital have a rich cultural infrastructure and web of mutually supportive interrelationships; a high capacity and motivation among residents to predict, participate in and control their own environment in a manner that enhances community life, and who feel empowered to choose, adapt and implement a preferred future.” <UNQUOTE> If anyone doubts the potential for the intellectual capital developed and utilized in Cannery Row gathering places, Jim’s work should convince otherwise. Of course, I believe that the Cannery Row culture succeeded at the time because of a lucky, accidental, or synchronistic assembly of characters who were able to connect. As difficult as it would be to imagine for an outsider, there was plenty of love between locals on the Row among the corrugated steel and weed filled lots.

From Jim’s observations and direct experience he describes roles assumed by participants in Gathering Places: They include:

• are the glue that hold the culture together. 
• are routinely accessible to people of the networks when they need assistance or advise.
• The assistance or advice is freely given; there is no chit or payback expected.
• are invisible to outsiders and do not belong to formal groups. 
• are essential to high levels of social capital in society.  Ed R. was a caretaker as was Flora.  

• move information throughout the networks.
• are generally in places where they come into contact with people from various informal networks and formal groups. 
• are especially prevalent in gathering places such as coffee shops, bars, beauty shops, restaurants, etc. 
• are essential for moving information quickly throughout a community when you need accuracy and word-of-mouth speed.
Mac was a communicator between networks, his and Doc's for instance.  Danny from Tortilla Flat was a caretaker/communicator. Wing Chung was a communicator.

• carry the culture through their stories. 
• provide a community with the culture benchmarks that are essential to understand how a community can grow and still maintain the good parts of their culture. 
• understand the importance of gathering places and are often the "characters" in the gathering places. 
George from Mice and Men was a storyteller.  Of course Doc was cast as a storyteller in Cannery Row and the whole Lab in actuality functioned as a gathering place where stories brought understanding, introspection, reflection and action.

• function as a protective device for the informal systems screening out intrusive people from formal systems. 
• narrow the entry to a network or community through information control.
• Often are verbal people who understand both the informal and the formal.

• function in the area of knowledge and wisdom. 
• have knowledge and wisdom from the culture and often provide cultural interpretations to technical data and information generated by formal systems.  Often these individuals have one foot in the cultural context and another in a scientific context understanding both as well as how to integrate so that scientific data can be put into a local context that is usable. 

The Seer in Cannery Row was an authenticator for Doc.  Current Lab key holder Eldon Dedini operates in this capacity in relation to the lab and its function.  Lab gathering place regular Bruce Aris was such a person as was Ed Ricketts.
I believe that if we were to integrate Jung’s functional types and attitudes, as well as the individuation process we would find even more useful techniques in helping communities and teams achieve their goals.

In very complex training programs that I developed for professionals that were mainly simulation I had the participants take and share style information using a simple, thirty question instrument that I called the Working Style survey. The survey produced the type and attitude of the individual. Unlike the MBTI it used direct Jungian functional terms such as Sensation, Thinking, etc. I then assigned roles based upon what I learned of the individual team members. I found over the years in business that the pseudo acronyms utilized by the MBTI were not as easily accepted in technical organizations.

If we were to combine Kent’s Roles and Jung’s model, it would enable us to:
• Better understand the role player’s driving forces, attitude, perception, judgment and so forth
• Predict in greater detail who would naturally accept and successfully fulfill the roles
• Provide guidance for the role player or to assist them in achieving effectiveness technically and interpersonally.

Like Jim Kent, I have successfully used the fore-mentioned concepts in developing training programs for accountants, consultants, engineers, technicians and medical providers. Rather than just producing training programs that are mere exchanges of information, I developed communities or teams of individuals who shared a common goal. The programs were successful not only in the measure of the transfer of knowledge but because the trainees acquired skills in actual under-the-gun experiences. The programs worked so well that I often had difficulty getting the trainees to leave on breaks or even at the end of the training day. We calculated the return on investment, that is the cost of development and delivery of the training verses the return in revenue. We realized a return well in excess of the costs within six months.

After our discussions on Gathering Places, Jim and I decided that the concept deserved more examination and I have done so. From this simple examination, I determined that the gatherings on the Row seem to fit into the “informal type,” that is:
• participants arrive without specific invitation and following no formal schedule. They would feel free to leave with the same independence;
• the reason for a participant to show up at the gathering place is to enjoy the company of friends (to be “…where everybody knows your name”).
• participants arrive harboring no expectations or desire beyond the camaraderie, intellectual discourse, and friendship;
• it is likely that the participants did not know what topics were going to be discussed prior to arriving nor did they know where the discussion path would lead.
• the participants were comfortable that their ideas, comments, questions, and opinions will be treated respectfully and, perhaps at times with friendly humor. Respect and honor for the individual is the norm. Ed Ricketts seemed to be a force in assuring such a productive interpersonal environment;
• strangers or newcomers are initially feared, perhaps because they are considered potential catalysts for change, and as a result are treated with social distance, distrust, and caution (see Gatekeepers above).

While it may appear that such a meeting environment, one that ignored Robert’s Rules of Order, would not be productive. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary. In his non-fiction book, “Bombs Away, The Story of a Bomber Team,” Steinbeck equated such an apparently disorganized gathering to the American population in general. He stated that the Axis leaders mis-interpreted the apparent disorder in this country deeming it a sign of weakness while the opposite was true. The apparent disorder Steinbeck stated was actually an indicator of our strength. Of course the war results proved Steinbeck correct.

I have sometimes thought that perhaps Cannery Row, since it seemed populated by common man or women had the potential to be a focal point for Western Myth; that is, a spiritual place for the occidental mind like Tibet is for the Eastern Mind. I would love to see Cannery Row become once again a scholarly Gathering Place where occidental males and females can find philosophical harmony. Certainly today’s more tourist focused Cannery Row does not offer an opportunity for spiritual growth but during the Steinbeck and Ricketts days it seemed to do just that and it attracted some great minds of the time. I believe that the gatherings on Cannery Row contributed to awakening the world to the plight of hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers and other unpleasant realities in our society through Steinbeck’s work and therefore it was a bone fide instrument for change. There were other things changed as a result of gatherings in the Lab, for instance the creation of the Monterey Jazz Festival by members of the Second Lab Team. If we consider Jim Kent’s work, some of my successes, I believe that there is great potential for creativity, influence, and accomplishments in Gathering Places such as existed on the Row.

I’d love to see the Row once again become that special place that nearly every reader of Cannery Row or Sweet Thursday is transported. I doubt if the City of Monterey would allow the bordellos to return again, but there may be other ways of attracting humans looking to participate in efforts to improve this tired old world.

Steinbeck, Ricketts, and Jung

I believe that there are some misconceptions regarding the influence of Ricketts on the work of Steinbeck, especially in the Astro biography. Of course Ricketts’ influence on him was even acknowledged by the writer. But it is my opinion after a study that Steinbeck brought plenty of knowledge or philosophical wisdom to the discussions at the Gathering Places. I believe that no one should assume that Steinbeck’s work is only based upon knowledge acquired from Ricketts or solely as a result of the discussions among the cronies in the lab. Steinbeck Biographer Jackson J. Benson seems to agree with my opinion. Ignoring the Steinbeck contributions to even the early discussions on the Row may result in someone missing important Steinbeck concepts. It seems to me when his biographers mentioned the phalanx in their works but failed to include the term in their indexes supports my point.

Regarding the influence of Jung on Steinbeck’s writing, there have been statements about Jung trained analyst Evelyn Ott. I do believe that she may have introduced a clinical perspective in some discussions but I don’t believe that she was a regular attendee, not that anyone should assume that there was a formal organization complete with an attendance sheet. Jackson Benson stated that Doctor Ott did not freely share her professional knowledge and I believe there are good reasons for this. From what I read, other than providing Dr. Ott’s son with boxing lessons, the relationship between her and Steinbeck was, friendly but casual to say the most. I suspect that Joseph Campbell had more Jungian influence in the related discussions than Dr. Ott.

There were a considerable number of available Jung publications at the time that Steinbeck entered Stanford in the early 1920s. Steinbeck had a friendship with a rather forward thinking and radical Stanford Philosophy Chairman, Harold Chapman Brown. As any of the Steinbeck biographies will tell you, Steinbeck was not a disciplined student at Stanford and attended only courses and classes that interested him. Philosophy was one of the subjects at Stanford for which Steinbeck demonstrated an enthusiasm, never missing a class or discussion. Brown championed the idea that philosophy must “work hand-in-hand with science” (AND WHERE IS THAT TODAY?) and I believe that this heavily influenced Steinbeck;s philosophy. From what little I’ve read about Brown, namely in the Benson biography, such thoughts would be acceptable to Jung and Jung’s empirical attitude toward his psychology would have been easy for Brown to accept. Jung’s insistence on remaining empirical in his work may have appealed to Ed Ricketts’ concept of non-teological thinking.

There are even recent published opinions that the Character of Doc was based solely upon Ed Ricketts. Given Steinbeck’s admitted inability to objectively recall facts about past events or people, the character “Doc”, in my opinion, could have been a blend that included Ricketts but perhaps there is some Carlton “Dook” Sheffield, Jung, Joseph Campbell, and even Stanford’s Brown.

So what I am proposing is that Steinbeck’s philosophical foundation was substantial and it predates his friendship with Ricketts.

If we assume Steinbeck, Ricketts, and even Campbell were able to read the available material from Jung, how would this have impacted Steinbeck’s work? How would this evolve over years through further discussion, correspondence, thought, and reflection?

For one thing, let’s consider Steinbeck’s incredible ability to develop characters for his novels. Personally, I believe he did this better than anyone. A familiarity with Jung’s work may have enabled him to use its psychological geometry or algebra in defining characters with sufficient depth. With Jung’s model, for instance, we recognize that the persona or personality is the image presented by someone as well as the image perceived by another. For instance, what you perceive of my character is partially a product of the image I present and the perception created within your own psyche. I believe that Steinbeck would know that the personality is but one facet of a whole human in the Jung analytical model called the ‘Self’. The Self includes the Ego and the Unconscious. Unlike Freud’s vision of the psyche represented by the persona at the top of an inverted pyramid and the small pointed area at the bottom representing the unconscious within which resides our basic animal instincts etc., Jung defined the psyche with the smallest area or persona at the top of the pyramid, the ego in the middle, followed by the personal and then the collective unconscious at the bottom. We Jungians know that the personal and collective unconscious have great influence on our perception, judgment, and behavior, and also greatly influence our interpersonal and teaming relationships. The sometimes very strong unconscious influence is the realm of what Steinbeck refers to as the Phalanx. I believe that Steinbeck was aware of Jung’s functional styles: Sensation, Thinking, Intuition, and Feeling, as well as psychological attitudes: Extravert and Introvert. Accepting this, I would also have to believe that Steinbeck was aware of the interpersonal dynamics brought into play between opposite or discordant functional styles or attitudes. The Thinker vs the Feeler for instance. I believe that Steinbeck recognized levels of adult development or maturity as another dimension in his characters ranging from the most primitive or those that have no sense of self whatsoever at the lowest to the highest adult maturity that Jung called “individuated” or what Ricketts may have referred to as someone who has experienced a “breaking through”.

Stage: Level one
No Self concept. Ego so weak as to make it impossible for the Level ones to distinguish between the real world and the projections from their unconscious. The level one projects themselves on the world and then identify with those projections. No sense of individuality, "herd animals." Subject to complete domination by the phalanx.

Stage: Level two
Ego stronger to the point that it can somewhat separate from the unconscious; but not so much as to avoid maintaining it via ritual, and/or religion. Level twos are still mainly unconscious as individuals and they worship gods distinguished from themselves (first individuation step).

Stage: Level three
Fully independent ego with complete rejection or demystification of the unconscious. Level threes identify with the control source (the ego), not the world like the level one. While the Level Three  dismisses the unconscious, they still tend to project it through superstitions and onto each other (shadow). The Level Three's Ego is an antagonist to the unconscious.

Stage: Level four
Fully independent ego with acknowledgment of and are consciously seeking a path to the unconscious. I believe that Ed Ricketts, was an “individuated’ fitting the description of a level four person. The four levels are based upon the descriptions found in the book, The Gnostic Jung, by Robert A. Segal, Published by Mythos, The Princeton/Bollingen Series in World Mythology.

How such adult maturity would play out in Jung’s functional styles and the roles assumed in a group or mob in my opinion would be worthy of serious study that would produce results important to this tired old world. Ricketts’ breaking through is very similar to Jung’s re-birth


In Conclusion, my goal was to describe to you my awakening of the intellectual bond between Jung, Steinbeck, and Ricketts especially in the 1920s and 1930s. I also wanted to make you aware of the practical application of the ideas in teams and communities.

I would be very happy if Cannery Row is recognized for the special place it was with the hope of assuring that future efforts there not only serve tourists, but also serve scholarly aims. I propose that the Row’s scholarly environment be open not only to educators, philosophers, and researchers but to a variety of human kind such as existed in Steinbeck/Ricketts time. Such a variety of individuals would add substantially to the ideas and accomplishments achieved. The necessary interpersonal environment would have to be one that welcomed and honored the individual. Unlike the centers for Eastern Myth where it is expected that everyone leave their shoes at the door, a Cannery Row gathering place visitor would leave their egos at the door.

I propose these things because I am convinced that actual proof exists that the Row was a source of valuable intellectual capital that has already contributed to making the world a better place and that spirit remains.

As my friend Joseph Pagano would tell you, I have a lot more to say but perhaps this should be in response to questions and future discussion.

I would pleased to answer any questions or to discuss any points from this presentation person-to-person or via email. A copy of this presentation will remain on-line at my website: