John Stienbeck Essay, Research Paper
An American author and winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize for literature, John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr., b. Salinas, Calif., Feb. 27, 1902, d. Dec. 20, 1968, based most of his novels on the American experience, often with sympathetic focus on the poor, the eccentric, or the dispossessed.
Early Life and Works
Steinbeck grew up in Salinas Valley, a rich agricultural area of Monterey County and the setting of many of his works, where he learned firsthand of the difficulties of farm laborers. From 1919 to 1925 he studied intermittently at Stanford University but did not receive a degree.
Steinbeck’s first published book, Cup of Gold (1929), was not successful. He then turned to the valleys of rural California for his settings and characters. The Pastures of Heaven (1932) contains a series of closely linked tales about residents of California. To a God Unknown (1933) relates a mystical story of self-sacrifice and is one of Steinbeck’s strongest statements about the relationship between people and the land. The Long Valley (1938) is a collection of short stories, among them “The Red Pony,” which chronicles the initiation of a ranch boy, Jody Tiflin, into manhood.
Steinbeck’s first popular success was Tortilla Flat (1935), an episodic tale that recounts semihumorously the adventures of a raffish band of Mexican-Americans. The books that ensued were terse and grim. In Dubious Battle (1936) is the tragic story of a young labor organizer during an apple pickers’ strike. OF MICE AND MEN (1937) depicts the lives of two itinerant farm workers and the tragedy that comes when their dreams are shattered. Written as a “play-novel,” it was produced on Broadway in 1937 and filmed in 1939. Their Blood Is Strong (1938) is a nonfictional account of conditions in migrant agricultural workers’ camps derived largely from articles written for the San Francisco News. It probably formed the basis for The GRAPES OF WRATH (1939; film, 1940), which won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and brought the plight of dispossessed farmers to the public’s attention.
Later Life and Works
After the film success of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck turned to filmmaking himself with screenplays for The Forgotten Village (1941) and Viva Zapata! (1952), the first about efforts to bring modern medicine to remote Mexican villages, and the latter about a Mexican revolutionary leader. In the meantime he wrote The Moon Is Down (1942), a play-novel about the German invasion of a neutral European country.
After World War II, Steinbeck wrote increasingly about social outcasts. Cannery Row (1945) relates the story of a central character, Doc, and a group of vagabonds on the Monterey coast. The Pearl (1947) is a popular fable about a Mexican fisherman’s finding and finally discarding a valuable pearl that brings him only grief. The Wayward Bus (1947) presents a morality tale about characters who supposedly represent middle-class society. Burning Bright (1950), a play-novel, preached the theme of universal brotherhood but was largely unsuccessful.
Steinbeck devoted several years to his most ambitious project, East of Eden (1952; film, 1955), which paralleled the history of his mother’s family and was an allegorical modernization of the biblical story of Adam. Subsequent novels proved anticlimactic–Sweet Thursday (1954), a sentimental sequel to Cannery Row; The Short Reign of Pippin IV (1957), a burlesque; Once There Was a War (1958); and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), a moralistic tale about a decaying Long Island seaport.
Steinbeck spent many of his later years writing a modern version of Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur, published posthumously and incomplete as The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976). He also wrote about his travels and opinions in Once There Was a War (1958), Travels with Charley (1962), and America and Americans (1966). Steinbeck has remained popular for his compassionate portrayal of the lonely, the poor, and the dispossessed.
Warren G. French
Bibliography: Benson, Jackson T., The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer: A Biography (1990); Bloom, Harold, ed., John Steinbeck (1986); DeMott, R., ed., Working Days: The Journals of “The Grapes of Wrath” (1989); Ditsky, John, Critical Essays on Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (1989); Fensch, Thomas, ed., Conversation with John Steinbeck (1988); French, Warren, John Steinbeck, 2d ed. (1975); Kiernan, Thomas, The Intricate Music: A Biography of John Steinbeck (1979); Levant, Howard, The Novels of John Steinbeck: A Critical Study (1975); Lisca, Peter, The Wide World of John Steinbeck (1981); McCarthy, Paul, John Steinbeck (1979); Millichap, Joseph, Steinbeck and Film (1983); Noble, Donald R., ed., The Steinbeck Question: New Essays in Criticism (1992); Owens, Louis, John Steinbeck’s Re-Vision of America (1985); St. Pierre, Brian, John Steinbeck: The California Years (1984); Steinbeck, Elaine, and Wallsten, Robert, eds., Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (1975); Timmerman, John H., John Steinbeck’s Fiction (1986).
Grapes of Wrath, The
The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by U.S. novelist John STEINBECK is one of the most powerful chronicles in AMERICAN LITERATURE of the DEPRESSION OF THE 1930S. It deals with the Joads, a family that loses its farm through foreclosure and leaves the Oklahoma DUST BOWL for California in the hope of finding work. The eldest generation has the comfort of religion, the next one has a dogged perseverance, but the youngest has little to believe in. Embittered by the brutal exploitation of migrant workers, Tom, who had been jailed for murder and who later kills again, becomes a labor organizer. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning (1940) novel (see PULITZER PRIZE), Steinbeck alternates his narrative with serious discussion of the problems of migrant laborers.
Of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men (1937; film, 1939), a short novel by John STEINBECK set in Salinas, Calif., has been called Steinbeck’s most successful work. The novel deals with two migrant workers: Lennie, a physically powerful but mentally retarded giant, and George, his friend and protector. They share the dream of someday buying a farm together. The dream is shattered when Lennie accidentally kills the wife of a rich farmer and is then sought by a lynch mob. He and George tenderly recall their dream just before George shoots Lennie to save him from the crueler death he will inevitably face at the hands of the mob. The book established Steinbeck as a writer of distinction. It was made into a play shortly after publication.