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An American Morality Tale: Train Dreams & River of Shadows

Never before seen on such a grand scale, the Great Strike, as mentioned in River of Shadows, caused significant countrywide unrest. While highlighting a division between railroad workers and common civilians, the movement conveyed an incredible power only achievable with such a vast number of participants. Solnit wrote, “Half the nation’s railroad traffic was shut down, and its citizens were out en masse flexing a power they had seldom felt before… railroad workers and union men were soon outnumbered by thousands…” (Solint 163). By joining together and protesting to overthrow the corrupt railroad leaders, civilians formed an unstoppable community; one that stretched from St. Louis to Louisville. Aside from destruction to freight cars and locomotives, the movement’s message rings true: accomplishments can be large when “neighbors and friends [roll] up their sleeves and [pitch] in to help one another” (Reich 13.2-3). The idea of a community working together mirrors the tight knit community depicted in Reich’s myth entitled The Benevolent Community. Additionally, the motivation to strike stemmed from corruption and maltreatment among leaders of the railroad, who undeniably controlled America. Reich’s idea of Rot at the Top expresses an identical notion of selfish dishonesty.

Similarly, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams can be connected to Reich’s first myth, The Mob at the Gates. When Grainier returns to town seeking a dog to be his companion, he feels overwhelming lust for the two Kootenais women at the fairgrounds selling wolfish-looking puppies. After conversing with them, Grainier leaves empty handed, “[knowing] something bad [has] happened inside him” (Johnson 106). He feels wrong and dirty. After seeing a sign for an upcoming show entitled Sins of Love, Grainier’s desire deepens while his guilt and disgust intensifies. Returning to his home in the forest, Grainier isolates himself from the town in an attempt to ensure the “evil,” or his overwhelming desire, resides safely out of reach. Similarly, Reich highlights in The Mob at the Gates the manner in which we, as a country, attempt to “isolate ourselves from the rest of the globe, to contain evil forces beyond our borders” (Reich 9.1-2). America, being the melting pot of goodness and virtue, finds herself surrounded by malice and darkness beyond her borders, attempting to push inside. George’s desire and lust is the malice that slipped through America’s borders and goes against the American virtue. After miserable and sleepless nights, Grainier avoids attending the show, “never [knowing] whether he’d saved himself or deprived himself” (Johnson 113). Grainier made a choice to “maintain vigilance,” and not let the “dark forces” of lust and desire “overrun” him, which lies at the foundation of Reich’s myth (Reich 10. 7-8).


For more information regarding Reich’s Morality tale, please visit

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