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John E Steinbeck

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 10 months ago


John E. Steinbeck

presented by
Jesse McBride






John Steinbeck



I. Biography

II. Works

III. The Critics

IV. Works Consulted


I. Biography


     John Steinbeck was born in 1902 in the Salinas Valley region of southern California to John Ernst and Olive Steinbeck (nee Hamilton). Steinbeck's roots were important to him: his ancestry and home region would provide the soil in which future writing could grow (see regionalism).

    After graduating from highschool, Steinbeck entered Stanford University, but attended only intermittently. He left without a degree to work as a blue-collar laborer in New York City in 1925. After trying his hand at journalism Steinbeck returned to California the following year. His Stanford education introduced Steinbeck to the literary tradition and gave him some basic rules for writing.

    In 1929 Cup of Gold, his first novel, was published. The following year he married his first wife, Carol Henning, met his lifelong friend Ed Ricketts, and settled in Pacific Grove California. The succeeding years were marked by the Depression, which made work scarce for a free-lance writer of literary fiction. In 1935 Steinbeck's ship came in with the publication of Tortilla Flat his first popular novel. From this point on Steinbeck would be loved and read, although not always by the literary establishment.

    Of Mice and Men in 1937 not only increased Steinbeck's popularity, but also marked the beginning of his forays into stage production. The novel reflects his deep sense of place, drawing on the scenery and lifestyle Steinbeck observed in his own experiences with California farmland and people. He showed a propensity for travel--taking a trip first to Europe, and then across the American west with "Okies" on the run from the dust. This experience figured prominently in the highpoint of Steinbeck's career: The Grapes of Wrath. This wildly popular book won him the Pulitzer Prize, and has been credited with virtually creating the dustbowl refugee persona of foundational American folksinger Woody Guthrie (Stoneback).

The rest of Steinbeck's literary career was marked by failure to please the literary establishment, although Steinbeck's books continued to sell. This was also a time of personal troubles--in the dozen or so years between The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden Steinbeck was divorced and remarried twice. He wrote what amounted to U.S. propaganda during World War II, and failedto rekindle the flame of critical acceptance, which had always been somewhat fickle for him. In 1952 he produced the lengthy, semi-autobiographical East of Eden, criticized as a somewhat self-indulgent personal fable of Steinbeck's family history.

In 1962 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for his representations of underpriviliged members of society, especially in The Grapes of Wrath. This boosted his grassroots popularity, much to the chagrin of disgusted literary critics who were ready to be rid of him. 1962 also saw the publication Travels with Charley, a sort of travel journal about Steinbeck's roadtrips across the country with his dog. Unfortunately, the book merely showed Steinbeck to be miserably out of touch with the nation and past his prime. He spent the next six years quietly working on a translation of Le Morte d'Arthur, and died in 1968 at the age of 66. He was buried back where he started, in Salinas California, the region in which so much of his fiction took place.




II. Works



John Steinbeck's works are known for embracing the history and human struggles of the time.  The Grapes of Wrath is well known for its depiction of life in the middle to western United States during the Great Depression.  Tortilla Flat also takes place during the Depression, but comes from the perspective of young men in Monteray rather than that of despondant farmers and displaced families.








1935 - Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal for Best Novel by a Californian - Tortilla Flat

1938 - New York Drama Critics' Circle Award - Of Mice and Men

1940 - Pulitzer Prize Fiction Award - The Grapes of Wrath

1962 - Nobel Prize for Literature




III. The Critics


    John Steinbeck has often been more popular with average people than with literary critics. He certainly does take on the persona of the Everyman, placing himself in a line of American populists, from Whitman  to Sandburg. Steinbeck's particular brand of populism seems to lead him into activism, which is one way he offends aesthetic critical analysts. The labor union socialism of The Grapes of Wrath seems more didactic than artistic to many critics; indeed Steinbeck is often accused of heavy handedness. During World War II he wrote actual propaganda for the US military, along with some less explicitly utilitarian texts (which nevertheless have been called propaganda) such as The Moon is Down.

One way of accounting for the gap between reviews of Steinbeck and sales of his book is his blunt utilitarianism. Literary critics, trained as they are to appreciate subtlety of form, are put off by his sometimes unsubtle writing. Less literary audiences find accessibility and powerful stories of work, loss, and rough, unsophisticated life. The 1962 Nobel Prize that Steinbeck was awarded betokens his "humanitarian" work in writing for under-represented groups, rather than some pure, artistic merit. This infuriated many critics, who saw it as the prize as the result of one good book--The Grapes of Wrath--among many mediocrities.



IV. Works Consulted


Web Sources:


The Nobel Prize Website

The National Steinbeck Center


Print Sources:


Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: John Steinbeck. Chelsea House Publishers. New York, 1987.


Fontenrose, Joseph. John Steinbeck: an Introduction and Interpretation. Barnes & Noble Inc. New York, 1963.


St. Pierre, Brian. John Steinbeck: The California Years. Chronicle Books. San Fransisco, 1983.


Stoneback, H.R. "Rough People...Are the Best Singers: Woody Guthrie: John Steinbeck, and Folksong."  The Steinbeck Question: New Essays in         Criticism. Donald Noble, ed. Whitston Publishing Company.  Troy, New  York, 1993.

Comments (3)

Anonymous said

at 9:33 pm on Mar 22, 2007

nice job on the bio jesse. what about those critics?

Anonymous said

at 10:24 am on Apr 2, 2007

overall good work, Jesse. The critics section is awfully short by comparison. Do you even need it? I wonder if there's a way that you can connect STeinbeck more explicitly to some of the things or persons or works taken up in class. Steinbeck might be thought of as a populist for instance, so in that way he's connected to the same impulses you find in Sandburg or Whitman. Not saying you have to do that, but if you can create a context for your reader to connect your writer to the rest of the class, that would be good.

Anonymous said

at 7:44 am on Apr 25, 2007

Jesse, I would take a little more advantage of the internet by creating links within your text to external sources. Also, a small issue, but your font somehow seems funky to me, making the page look cluttered somehow. I would mess around with different fonts to see if there isn't something better, but if not this is probably fine.

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