In those days it is a prestigious accomplishment to become a schoolteacher, and this is what Olive Hamilton becomes. She becomes engaged to a man from King City and marries him, moving to the city of Salinas. The narrator says that Olive was an exceptional mother to him and his three sisters. She is fiercely loyal and courageous—when a neighbor boy is killed in WWI, she devotes all her time to raising money for the war effort. She is rewarded with a medal of recognition and a ride in an airplane.
We get some brief insight into the life of our as-yet-unnamed narrator. This information is all quite autobiographical, mirroring the life of the book’s author, John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s “presence” in the novel reminds the reader that he or she is, in fact, reading a story—the novel is so much about the importance and influence of certain stories in human life that it counts itself among these stories.
Olive’s stubborn mind does not allow for the existence of such things as airplanes, but she knows she cannot turn down the honor. She prepares to die, for she is certain the plane will crash. When the time comes for the flight, she bravely sits next to the pilot. From the ground, the narrator remembers seeing the plane do loops and rolls—an unusual thing for the pilot to do, given his passenger is an old woman. When he had asked Olive if she wanted to do a stunt, she assumed he was telling her the plane was crashing, and she’d smiled and nodded at him to reassure him in their final moments. The pilot is so impressed with her when they land that he opines she would have made a great pilot herself.
Olive is an example of a woman who believes so thoroughly in her own stories that her mind will not be changed even by evidence to the contrary. The pilot also tells himself a story about Olive—that she is brave and unflappable and would have made a great pilot. This scene is in many ways about the variety and incongruity of opposing perspective, or opposing “stories.”