John Steinbeck: Contribution as American Author

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      John Steinbeck (1902-1968) was born in Salinas, California. Much of his fictional writing was done there. As a student of science he studied marine biology at Stanford. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father country treasurer. He graduated from High School where he held the various jobs during his schooling. He attended the Stanford University for four years. His college years were in many ways fruitful. He enrolled as a special student because he had to finance himself. After his four years at Stanford, he worked his way to New York on a cattle boat. Failing to find success as a novelist first, he worked as a bricklayer and returned to California. Where he worked as caretaker, chemist’s assistant, and migratory fruit picker.

      John Steinbeck, career began with the first novel Cup of Gold (1929) which was a romantic historical novel of adventure of Sir Henry Morgan, the buccaneer. It was followed by a collection of stories entitled The Pastures of Heaven (1932) in which he portrays the people in a farm community. His first novel did not bring any fame. To a God Unknown (1933) his second novel is about a California farmer whose religion is a pagan belief in fertility and who sacrifices himself on a primitive altar to bring to end to a drought. With the publication of Tortilla Flat (1935) he achieved a sudden fame. It is vivid picture of life among the paisanos in Monterey that brought Steinbeck to prominence. His work matured during the Depression years. Steinbeck announced the indestructibility of the common folk form. They became a human symbol of natural process viewed from the philosophical perspectives.

      John Steinbeck other novels are - In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), The Red Pony (1937). In Dubious Battle (1936) is a powerful novel about a strike among the migratory workers in the California fruit orchards and with Of Men and Mice the story of two itinerant workers who yearn for some sort of home. The Long Valley (1938) is a series of 13 stories set in the Salinas valley. John Steinbeck, like Sinclair Lewis, is held in higher critical esteem outside the United States. The Grapes of Wrath (1939) tells the story of the Oklahoma farmers who are driven off their land by soil erosion. The Joad family drives to California, hoping to take advantage of what they imagine to be a land of plenty. The grandparents die on their way, and the Joads arrive only to be worn down by the impossibly hard life of migrant fruit-pickers. They find a temporary respite in a government labor camp. When it closes they are forced to take work at a blacklisted orchard. There Tom Joad joins with Jim Casy, a minister turned into labor organizer. During ensuing strike violence Casy is killed, and Tom, who had once served time for killing a man in Oklahoma, kills gain to avenge Casy’s death. In panic, the Joads flee and try to hide Tom, but they are exhausted by struggle and starvation. Finally, Ma Joad decides that for the good of all the family Tom must leave. The rest of the family struggles on together though to what end and in what direction nobody knows. At the controversial end of the novel, the eldest daughter, Rose of Sheron, who has just given birth to a stillborn child, nurses an anonymous starving man with her own milk.

      The novel follows the travails of a poor Oklahoma family that loses its farm during the depression and trails to California to seek work. The family members suffer conditions of feudal oppression by rich landowners, and it won the Pulitzer prize and became a classic in American film in 1940. The Moon is Down (1942) is a short novel about Norwegian resistance to the Nazi occupation. Cannery Row (1945) is the novel in which he returns to the life of paisanos in Monterey. In The Wayward Bus (1947) the passengers on a stranded bus in California become a microcosm of contemporary American frustrations. His remaining novels are - The Pearl (1947) East of Eden (1952), Sweet Thursday (1954) and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961). Steinbeck combines realism with a ‘primite’ romanticism that finds virtue in poor farmers who live close to the land. His fiction demonstrates the vulnerability of such people who can be uprooted by droughts and are the first to suffer in periods of political unrest and economic depression.

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