Power and people in the novels of J. Steinbeck

John Steinbeck is a famous American writer who left a rich artistic heritage. In his writings, he denounced the social plagues of American society, combining it with deep psychologism in the characters’ images. In 1962 Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize “for a realistic and poetic gift, combined with mild humor and an acute social vision.”

John Steinbeck came from a family of Irish immigrants. His mother, a teacher, instilled in her son a love of literature. Entering Stanford University, John could not finish it, since there was nothing to pay for the training. In search of money, he changed many professions: he raised bricks at the construction site, worked in the field, served as a sailor, watchman, assistant at the biological station, a reporter in the newspaper.

From 1929 to 1935, the writer produces three novels: “The Golden Bowl”, “Unknown God” and “Heavenly Pastures”, which did not become popular with readers.

Fame Steinbeck brought the story “Quarter of Tortilla-Flat”, immediately fell into the list of bestsellers. In it Steinbeck showed the gift of a humorist. Describing the life of a group of guys from the poorest quarter of the seaside city of Monterey, the author does not romanticize their “freedom”, but emphasizes hatred and contempt for wealth.

In the thirties, Steinbeck’s work intensifies realistic tendencies, he begins to denounce the social conditions of life of the poorest sections of American society.

The subjects of the first novel, which brought the author wide popularity, “On mice and people” – became alienation and loneliness of a person in conditions of exploitative society. The narrative is deeply pessimistic. Characteristic of the words of one of the characters: “Do not you know that around us everywhere hell?” Describing the life of the two farm laborers wandering around the country, Steinbeck truthfully shows how fear and humiliation mutilate the souls of people, push them to cruel deeds, and hard work turns them into invalids.


novel “The Grapes of Wrath” is rightly called a folk epic. In it, Steinbeck shows a conflict of national importance: the ruin by banks, trusts and monopolies of hundreds of thousands of American farmers. The novel is based on real facts. The writer, along with the farmers of Oklahoma, made his way to California and witnessed a people’s disaster. In a letter to a friend, he reported: “The number of children dying of hunger in the valleys of California is simply amazing… I will do everything I can…”

The author attributes the tragedies of three generations of Jodow farmers to social meaning. He speaks about the causes of social stratification in the country, about the extreme poverty of some and the fabulous wealth of others. Creating grotesque images of the rich, Steinbeck predicts the inevitability of the death of the existing order of things.

The accusatory tendency of the “Grapes of anger” continues “Winter of our anxiety”. This is a socio-psychological novel in which the writer puts a moral and ethical problem about the human right to a crime. Steinbeck tries to understand the origins of crimes committed by his hero and in those laws by which society lives. In its subject matter, this novel echoes the “American tragedy” of Theodore Dreiser.

The protagonist Ethan Hawley does not look like a villain. This is a modest, sensitive person, evoking sympathy among others. His crimes are due to the social situation in which he lives. Ethan works as a clerk in a shop, his family is not in poverty, there is a house, children are in school. But the hero is tormented by uncertainty in the future: “children need shoes, they need entertainment… And monthly bills, doctors, dentists, tonsils removal, but imagine, suddenly, I myself get sick…”. Justification of his actions, Ethan finds in the philosophy of pragmatism: “Everything depends, I think, on the results… For most people who succeeded, it is always right.” The author repeatedly repeats that America is a country where “everyone steals – who is greater, who is less.”

The image of Ethan Hawley is psychologically complex. Deceiving the people who trusted him, robbing them of the last, Ethan suffers with remorse. Taylor he brought to suicide, and Marullo ruined, acting treacherously. But Hawley could not succeed, he could not rob the bank. Steinbeck sees the reason for this in the fact that there are still a lot of human in Iten, he has not yet turned into a hundred percent Yankees of the 60s, capable for money at anything.

Mental torments cause him to think of suicide, but then he decides to return to his daughter, so that “one more light does not go out.” The family talisman, which is transmitted to the family from the fathers to the children, symbolizes in the novel the immortality of humanistic traditions that can not be extinguished.

Steinbeck believes in a good beginning in man, but warns the public about the alarming symptoms of the internal degeneration of people in modern America.

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Power and people in the novels of J. Steinbeck