John Steinbeck's "The Leader of the People" is a sentimental and symbolic story that expresses a longing for America's past. It is the final part of The Red Pony story cycle, a collection of tales that all center on the character of Jody Tiflin, a young boy who comes of age during the course of the stories. "The Leader of the People" stands as a complete story on its own, as it details a day that Jody's grandfather visits the family farm. The old man proceeds to tell a story from his past, and Steinbeck implies that perhaps the nation's best times are in the past.
Indeed, the idea of a troubled future is introduced early in the story, as Steinbeck describes Jody's conversation with Billy Buck, a ranch-hand, about the mice that have infested the haystacks. Jody tells Billy that he will use the dogs to hunt the mice after Billy has finished his work in the haystack. Jody realizes that:
Those plump, sleek, arrogant mice were doomed. For eight months they had lived and multiplied in the haystack. They had been immune from cats, from taps, from poison and from Jody. They had grown smug in their security, overbearing and fat. Now the time of disaster had come; they would not survive another day (Steinbeck 1726).
Indeed, Steinbeck describes a very bleak future for the mice, and a mood and tone is immediately established for the story and its characters (Gullason 225). There is a strong sense that the best of times has already past.
Within the larger frame work of the four part story cycle, Jody's relationship with his father, Carl, is quite significant, but this is also true of "The Leader of the People" when considered on its own. There is a distance between Jody and his father. In fact, it almost seems as if Jody is afraid of Carl. His father's brusque and unforgiving manner do alienate the young boy, as Jody explains, "His father, Carl Tiflin, insisted upon giving permission for anything that was don...