The Winter of Our Discontent

Steinbeck, John

Bantam, 1962

p. 204-205

Ethan Allen Hawley (Steinbeck’s protagonist in the novel) learned a compartmentalizing practice from “Charley Edwards, a major of middling age . . . He had a large family, a pretty wife and four children in steps, and his heart could ache with love and longing for them if he allowed it to. He told me about it. In his deadly business he could not afford to have his attention warped and split by love, and so he had arrived at a method. In the morning, that is if we were not jerked from sleep by an ambush alert, he opened his mind and heart to his family. He went over each one in turn, how they looked, what they were like; he caressed them and reassured them of his love. It was as though he picked precious things one by one from a cabinet, looked at each, felt it, kissed it, and put it back. And last he gave them a small goodbye and shut the door of the cabinet. The whole thing took half an hour if he could get it and then he didn’t have to think of them again all day. He could devote his full capacity, untwisted by conflicting thought and feeling, to the job he had to do–the killing of men. He was the best officer I ever knew.”