The Snake by John Steinback (Summary and Reflection)

John Steinback’s The Snake – a one plot story of a biologist named Dr. Philips and a mysterious woman who came into his little commercial library to buy a male rattle snake. The story began when Dr. Philip was walking his way to the lab on the Cannery Street of Montery. He changed his clothes and removed his boots after entering the door where rats, cats, and rattle snakes were taken care of by him. Then, he prepared a meal from a can of beans, and started eating it before doing his experiment on the sexual reproduction of starfish using a microscope and a pile of little glasses. He was in the height of concentration when a sudden knock on the door was heard, a tall woman dressed in black like her eyes and hair as well stood in the doorway when he opened it. Unwillingly welcomed, the woman informed him to continue what he was doing until he has a time to entertain her. Dr. Philips then continued the experiment, and subtly kept on arousing the woman’s interest who seemed to show apathy and care for what he was doing. After the first session, he allotted 20 minutes for her concerns. The woman showed her very interest in buying a male rattle snake. And after a little talk was done, he let the woman buy his five feet male rattle snake for five dollars. Odd as she may, but the mysterious woman told him that she just want to own it without the intention of taking care of it by her. Then, she bought a rat for the snake that costs 25 cents to feed it a while and see straight from her eyes how it would attack and devour the rat until it into fell asleep. Before the woman decided to leave, she told him that she will be back every little while to feed the snake and take it soon; she also discouraged him not to remove the venom of her snake. Months had passed and Dr. Philips waited in vain for the woman to return, but no trace of her was seen after her first and last visit.

I beg to question why the title is The Snake. There’s a deeper reason why John Steinback used it, either symbolically or literally. The story has a soft touch of gender issue where Dr. Philips represents reason, and the mysterious woman whose named was never mentioned represents nature. It seemed like two clashing sides of gender characteristics meet in his laboratory. Back then, only men were given the privilege to have a formal schooling and usually women were ought to stay at home for household chores. In connection to the story, maybe it also depicts same situation where the biologist happen to be a man and the mysterious woman’s propensity was not into it. Now going back to the title, maybe the title must not be taken literally just because the rattle snake played a heavy role in the story. Dr. Philips though of killing the snake or leaving the woman when they meet again, and the unknown woman gave a false hope of coming back for the snake – for me, both of them were like snakes for betraying one another after that night. We may also associate evilness to color black, which was used to describe the hair, dress, and eyes of the woman. By the physical description itself, Steinback obviously wants the readers to build a negative impression to her. And her oddity for not taking the snake after buying it, leaves the readers clueless of her state of sanity.  After reading it, I realized that there are simple instances in the story which can be interpreted and related to different life’s situation. Critical and Creative, indeed, are the prerequisites in order to peruse the implication of John Steinback’s story.


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