The Battle Between Human Nature and Curiosity
In boring places of the world, it can be hard to keep yourself entertained as the dull movement through each day gets more tedious than the last. This problem is something many people in the boring town of Loma faced in the short story “Johnny Bear” written by John Steinbeck. To resolve their feelings of boredom, many residents of the town gather at the Buffalo Bar to drink, converse, or get town gossip from Johnny Bear if someone is willing to pay. From Johnny Bear, the residents of Buffalo Bar are able to learn about the internal affairs of people in Loma whether it be light-hearted information or secrets that were meant to stay behind closed doors. What Steinbeck’s “Johnny Bear” is trying to show in this short story is the struggle between the residents of the Buffalo Bar and their curiosity, as well as how this same struggle reflects onto our society as a whole. This battle is something prevalent throughout the story as it affects many people in the town of Loma and has real-world implications that can be derived from it.
This battle with curiosity can be observed within the first pages of the story as the unnamed narrator meets Johnny Bear for the first time and learns of his intriguing skill. Everyone in the bar notices when Johnny Bear walks in as he is their beacon for information and gossip. Someone pays for his drink, which initially surprises the narrator, which can be seen when he thinks to himself how, “Loma was not a treating town. A man might buy a drink for another if he were pretty sure the other would immediately buy one for him. I was surprised when one of the quiet men laid a coin on the counter”(159). This interaction is a tell-tale sign of the balance between curiosity and the folks at the Buffalo Bar, as it is clear who reigns supreme here. Johnny Bear has managed to transform the bar into a market thanks to the curiosity of the people. His ability to mimic conversations had by other folks is found to be so intriguing that the residents of the bar deem his services worth some sort of payment. People here want to be in-the-know so badly that they are willing to listen to anything he repeats, which eventually comes back to bite them later on.
While the folks at the Buffalo Bar do enjoy getting their daily gossip, it has led them to learning information they might not have wanted to come across so deeply. For instance, Johnny Bear comes in one day and starts reciting Chinese which interests the narrator, so he pays for Johnny Bear’s drink. He would go on to regret this, however, as Johnny Bear instead would go on a different tangent that would go on to leak some sensitive information about Amy Hawkin’s attempted suicide. You could understand the seriousness of learning something like this as well as the heavy atmosphere it created inside the bar. “The men were silent, ashamed. Fat Carl looked at the floor. I turned apologetically to Alex, for I was really responsible. ‘I didn’t know he’d do that.’ I said. ‘I’m sorry’” (171). Even the narrator was unable to escape from the grasps of curiosity, and this fateful decision he made led everyone to learn something unpleasant about the Hawkins, who everyone looked up to and said held the community together. This need for information among the people in Loma can also shed some light on how people in the real world act, as this depiction is not too far off from reality.
The parallels between “Johnny Bear” and reality in terms of the need for information are rather stunning, as it is an accurate depiction of this. As people paid Johnny Bear for gossip and information, people today do something similar to this. The whole paparazzi industry is basically the same thing as this because of how willing people are to pay for any new information about actors, celebrities, or anyone noteworthy. Much like Johnny Bear, they will invade your privacy and do anything they can to get the information they want. In a sense, you can compare Johnny Bear to this industry as, much like paparazzi, he knows what people will want to hear, whether it's good or bad, and uses that to his advantage to get his “payment”. This is a testament to how society as a whole wants to profit off of the information of others and capitalizes on it by using our innate feelings of curiosity against us.
This constant fight against curiosity is something the residents of the Buffalo Bar wrestled with in “Johnny Bear” and this same struggle can actually be found in our society today. These struggles against curiosity can be witnessed within the opening pages of the book, with the first instance of someone paying Johnny Bear for some information that might interest them. It could also be observed when the narrator pays Johnny Bear and learns of some dark information that he and everyone else at the bar should probably not have known.
These interactions showed how the information seeking of the people in the bar was so great and the allure of new information was so tempting that they couldn’t resist getting their hands on it to stay in the loop.This could also be related to society today as the way Johnny Bear operates is very similar to the paparazzi today. They are able to get sensitive information from noteworthy people around the world and much like Johnny Bear, they don’t think about the effects of this information getting leaked as they are more worried about getting a “payment” in one form or another. This spread of sensitive information can be very damaging to the people involved as well as the people consuming it, as was evidenced by the people at the Buffalo Bar.
This point illustrates that while the exchange of information and gossip may be interesting or compelling, it can often backfire and lead to us learning more than we really want to know. This is why sometimes ignorance can be bliss, and letting the thirst for staying in the loop consume you can lead to devastating effects that go far beyond the realm of one’s self.
Steinbeck, John. “Johnny Bear.” The Long Valley, Penguin Group, 1995, pp. 101-120.
About the Artist
Evan Horoszko is planning on graduating with an associate's degree in Economics and transferring to a four-year school to earn a bachelor's degree in Economics. He plans on working in the pharmaceutical field, and is currently employed as a pharmaceutical technician. He enjoys exercise, fashion, and writing.