John Steinbeck

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John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and the novella Of Mice and Men (1937). He wrote a total of twenty-seven books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and five collections of short stories. In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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  • Steinbeck's initial vision of California as a fertile garden is the background against which his Depression drama is played out. In Dubious Battle, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath give us three versions of this story, supplemented by the bleak articles Steinbeck wrote about the conditions of migrant farmworkers for the San Francisco News and The Nation in 1936, which mark his transformation from a detached observer who sees a strike as the crucible of a larger metaphysical conflict to an indignant muckraker and reformer exposing the human costs of the system. The fruit of American plenty on the California trees and vines is exactly the fruit that the beleaguered migrants cannot have, the dream that will never be realized. It hangs on the trees all around them, but they cannot enjoy it. The simple organic needs that John Steinbeck shares with the paisanos of Monterey are precisely the needs that loom so large for Lennie and George or for the Joads when they are thwarted by a selfish, competitive, manipulated system. Surrounded by hostility amid plenty, Steinbeck's characters are brought together by dreams never to be realized. "Ever'thing in California is owned," someone tells Tom Joad. "They ain't nothin' left. An' them people that owns it is gonna hang on to it if they got ta kill ever-body in the worl' to do it." Ownership turns people ugly. There are huge concentrations of agricultural wealth that need workers but also keep them close to starvation. This system deprives people of basic hope, human dignity, animal satisfaction, and even the means of survival, amid great natural abundance. The seeming contradictions between Steinbeck's pastoral works and his protest novels are parts of a jigsaw puzzle that in the end fit neatly together, though, as reviewers noted from the beginning, he never wrote two books that were exactly alike.

    Morris DicksteinDancing in the Dark

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