003. nobody to shoot


We are reminded of the quandary of the tenant farmer in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, who confronts a tractor driver on the verge of bulldozing his shack. The farmer threatens to shoot the driver, who after all looks to be the (agentive) source of his domination. Nevertheless, the driver strenuously objects:

It’s not me. There’s nothing I can do. I’ll lose my job if I don’t do it. And look – suppose you kill me? They’ll just hang you, but long before you’re hung there’ll be another guy on the tractor, and he’ll bump the house down. You’re not killing the right guy.

‘That’s so,’ the tenant said. “Who gave you orders? I’ll go after him.’ ‘You’re wrong. He got his orders from the bank. The bank told him, “Clear those people out or it’s your job.”’

‘Well, there’s a president of the bank. There’s a board of directors. I’ll fill up the magazine of the rifle and go into the bank.’ The driver said: ‘Fellow was telling me the bank gets orders from the East. The orders were: “Make the land show profit or we’ll close you up.”’

‘But where does it stop?’ Steinbeck has his farmer ask the driver of the tractor. ‘Who can we shoot? I don’t aim to starve to death before I kill the man that’s starving me.’ ‘I don’t know,’ the driver replies. ‘Maybe there’s nobody to shoot’

Hayward, C., & Lukes, S. (2008). Nobody to shoot? Power, structure, and agency: A dialogue. Journal of Power1 (1), 5-20.

Kasey KlimesComment