John Ernest Steinbeck:
Staunch proponent of genuine moral goodness
John Ernest Steinbeck was an American writer who wrote many novels
and short stories.
John Ernest Steinbeck
In fact, Steinbeck compiled 16 novels, six nonfiction works and five
collections of short stories. His novels include Cup of Gold (1927), The
Pastures of Heaven (1932), The Red Pony (1937), To a God Unknown (1933),
Tortilla Flat (1935), In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937),
The Long Valley (1938), Grapes of Wrath (1939), The Forgotten Village
(1941), Sea of Cortez (1941), The Moon is Down (1942), Cannery Row
(1945), Earl of Eden (1952) and A Russian Journal (1948). His last work
was The Winter of Our Discontent (1961).
Grapes of Wrath
Grapes of Wrath is considered his masterpiece. It depicts that a
united effort is more powerful than individual approach in the
resolution of social issues affecting humanity.
The novel is based on the travails of a poor family in Oklahoma that
lost their farm during the depression and forced to travel to California
The family members suffered conditions of feudal oppression by the
Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for Grapes of Wrath and it
also paved the way for him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in
The American President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the 'United
States Medal of Freedom ' in 1964 in recognition of his undaunted
enthusiasm in promoting freedom in American society through his
The novel depicts a realistic picture of the American great
depression since the crash of the Stock Market in 1929 and its aftermath
which lasted a considerable period until the Second World War.
In addition, the worst affected areas of America were the Mid West
and the state of Oklahoma known as 'Dust Bowl' due to the prolonged
drought and strong winds, Steinbeck highlighted how the poor migrant
workers had been exploited by the landowners.
Steinbeck analyses the division that prevailed in the American
society between the rich and the poor and he attributed the evil and
suffering to this division.
Grapes of Wrath influenced even Eleaner Roosvelt and the Congress to
probe into the conditions of the camps of migrant workers. As a result
the labour rules were changed.
The novel became a bestseller with 100,000 copies being sold world
Mice and Men
George Milton and Lennie Small, two characters of Mice and Men were
walking to a ranch seeking harvesting jobs. Lennie was mentally deranged
and George provided guidance to Lennie. They stopped by a wayside stream
and decided to reach the ranch the following morning.
Lennie had a strange desire to pet anything soft and a dead mouse was
found in his pocket.
George removed the dead mouse from his pocket and reminded him what
happened when he tried to touch the soft dress of a girl. In Mice and
Men, Steinbeck's messages "I got you to look after me and you got me
look after you."
Steinbeck in his novel exposes the vital role played by dreams in the
lives of every human including the characters of George and Lennie. The
ownership of a farm was the dream of George and petting soft animals was
the dream of Lennie.
His portrayal of the dreams of the major characters of Mice and Men
is similar to the ' American Dream' which is unattainable.
Dubious Battle gives a vivid description of a strike launched by the
labourers of the agricultural sector.
The strike was organised by two communists and large scale
cultivators were angry about it. Steinbeck was blamed for instigating
labourers by writing the novel, To gather firsthand information on the
living conditions of the migrant workers, Steinbeck visited ranches
disguised as a migrant.
His observations facilitated him in giving a realistic portrayal of
the sufferings of the migrant workers in his novels.
Steinbeck's aim was to bring in social justice to the working class
exploited by the capitalist ranch owners.
The first story of Red Pony is 'Gift' where Mr Tiflin presents the
young character of the story Jody a red pony.
The gradual development of a young boy and how he faced the realities
of life are depicted in Red Pony. Jody named the pony Gabilan.
Red Pony(1937) has four stories interconnected by common characters,
setting and based on the same theme.
Billy Bucks taught Jody how to ride and just after the training the
Red Pony (Gabilan) got wet in the rain and died.
One of the major themes of Red Pony is man's complex relationship
Reference to nature such as the weather, flora and fauna reveals that
Steinbeck's belief that nature and man are inseparable.
Steinbeck compares mistreatment of natural world to the mistreatment
of his fellowmen.
East of Eden
The struggle between 'good' and 'evil' is the theme of East of Eden
and Steinbeck believes that this is the major theme of human history
since the origin of man.
Every human being since Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, has been on a
constant struggle choosing between good and evil.
The main characters in East of Eden, Cyrus, Charles, Cathy and Cal
were involved in activities of evil.
Steinbeck had conveyed the message from his writings that a similar
constant struggle was found in the lives of Trask and Hamilton families
in Salinas Valley.
Evil is depicted as an innate force in humanity but individuals are
free to choose either good or evil.
Steinbeck says in East of Eden, "I believe a strong woman may be
stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her
heart, I guess a loving woman is indestructible."
According to Steinbeck, 'the function of fiction is to foster moral
and spiritual growth by exposing our many grievous faults for the
purpose of improvement.' Humans can make themselves either good or evil
through their choices.
Steinbeck's characters in his novels such as Lennie Small, Ma Joad,
Cal, Trask, Ethan Hawley exposed their highest levels of moral thoughts
According to both Hindu and Buddhist concept of Karma, actions create
reactions. Patrick K. Dooley analysing the moral philosophy of
Steinbeck's writings exposed the fact that Steinbeck was a staunch
proponent of genuine moral goodness, human happiness and development.