John Steinbeck has been a major literary figure since the 1930s.
Steinbeck often centered his themes around the poor and the oppressed. His
characters are often trapped in an unfair world but they remain sympathetic
and heroic human beings. He won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for his most famous
novel, The Grapes of Wrath, which he wrote in 1939.
John Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California.
He took classes at Stanford University for a few years but left without a
degree. He then worked as a ranch hand and fruit picker to support himself
while he wrote. His first book Cup of Gold (1929), is about the famous
17th century Welsh pirate, Sir Henry Morgan. His next book was The Pastures
of Heaven (1932) which was a collection of short stories about a community
of southern California farmers. After that, he wrote To a God Unknown
(1933), a story about a farmer who took his own life during a severe drought.
But it was not until the publication of Tortilla Flat in 1935 that
Steinbeck received critical and popular acclaim. In this novel, Steinbeck
sympathetically portrays Americans of Mexican descent dwelling near Monterey,
California. Steinbeck went on to write In Dubious Battle (1936), a
story that realistically portrays labor strife in California during the 1930s.
Steinbecks next novel was Of Mice and Men (1937). It is a tragic
story about a physically powerful but mentally retarded farm worker and his
best friend and protector. Steinbeck also adapted this novel into a popular
play in 1937.
Steinbecks most famous novel was The Grapes of Wrath.
The novel tells the story of the Joads, a poor Oklahoma farming family who
migrate to California, using the famous Route 66, in search of a better life
during the Great Depression and the dust bowl. Steinbeck demonstrated how
the struggles of one family mirrored the hardship of the entire nation. Through
the inspiration of the labor organizer and preacher, Jim Casy, the Joads learn
that the poor must work together in order to survive.
Steinbecks characters are forced into poverty but keep
their dignity and pride throughout their struggles. Steinbeck focused on the
sacrifices made by people for their children and friends. Steinbeck points
out the simplicity of their lives and the fact that they wanted respect and
recognition. They are forced into constant migration by the same large land-owning
companies that prevent them from rising above poverty. The Grapes of Wrath
portrays an era of hopelessness and increasing rage, and the people trapped
The dispossessed were drawn west from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas,
New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored
out. Carloads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand
and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains,
hungry and restless--restless as ants, scurrying to find work to doto
lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cutanything, any burden to bear,
for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying
for work, for food, and most of all for land.
Some people consider some of Steinbecks work, like The
Grapes of Wrath, to be more of social importance than literary importance.
Some of these people even think that his work is a warning to the nations
leaders and an analysis of the forces that create political strife. Steinbeck
makes the reader have sympathy for the novels protagonists by pitting
them against the wealthy, distant company owners who rule blindly and heartlessly.
Steinbeck died in New York City on December 20, 1968.