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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 seeking work.

The family members suffered conditions of feudal oppression by the rich landowners.

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 1963.

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 writings.

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 wide.

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

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.

Red Pony

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 with nature.

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."

Moral philosophy

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 and feelings.

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.

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