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John Steinbeck

The American John Steinbeck was a prolific author. The most famous of his novels are The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and Of Mice and Men (1937). John Steinbeck often wrote about the struggles of the poor in America in the early 20th Century.

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John Steinbeck

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The American John Steinbeck was a prolific author. The most famous of his novels are The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and Of Mice and Men (1937). John Steinbeck often wrote about the struggles of the poor in America in the early 20th Century.

John Steinbeck's biography

John Steinbeck Biography
Birth:27th February 1902
Death:20th December 1968
Father:John Ernst Steinbeck
Mother:Olive Hamilton
Spouse/Partners:Carol Henning (1930-1943)Gwyn Conger (1943-1948)Elaine Scott (1950-1968)
Children:2
Famous Works:
Nationality:American
Literary Period:Modernist

Here are some biographical details about John Steinbeck's life and literary career.

Early life and education

John Ernst Steinbeck Jr was an American novelist born on 27th February 1902 in Salinas, California. He was one of four children, his father, John Ernst Steinbeck took on many different jobs including once being the treasurer of Monterey County in California. His mother, Olive Hamilton Steinbeck was a school teacher. Steinbeck Jr. grew up with three sisters and was considered shy but intelligent.

In 1919, John Steinbeck left home to attend Stanford University and studied there for six years. Despite the length of his studies, Steinbeck found little success and left without graduating. Soon after that, he left California for New York.

New York City and beyond

In 1925, John Steinbeck left home to pursue a career as a writer in New York City. He began working on construction sites and became a news reporter but found little success and soon moved back to California.

In California, he took up other jobs in manual labour and became a caretaker in Lake Tahoe while writing his first novel Cup of Gold (1929). He wrote two more novels but was once again met with little success or recognition, but it is thought his employment in manual labour gave him inspiration for his later, more successful novels.

Literary success and Nobel prize

John Steinbeck’s fourth novel Tortilla Flat (1935) earned him recognition and from then on Steinbeck’s books took a more serious tone with novels such as Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, the latter earning him the Pulitzer Prize. The Grapes of Wrath was adapted into a successful film in 1940.

During World War 2, Steinbeck worked as a war correspondent for The New York Tribune. Steinbeck married three times and had two sons from his second marriage to Gwyndolyn Conger. In 1962 John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, a prestigious award given annually to authors whose body of work is considered exceptional.

Although he spent most of his life in Monterey County, California, which was also the setting for a lot of his novels, he died at his home in New York City from heart disease at 66 years old. He wrote thirty three books.

Steinbeck's novels

Now we’ll take a more detailed look at a few of Steinbeck's best-known novels.

Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Steinbeck’s most widely acclaimed novel was published in 1939. It tells the story of the ‘Joad’ family from Oklahoma and is set during the great depression. The droughts rendered Oklahoma farmland useless and, being farmworkers, the Joad family decide to head west to California to look for work.

The journey proves difficult for the Joads, losing family members on the way. Once they arrive in California they find that work is not as easy to find as they were told. They also face discrimination from locals and landowners alike. Through their struggles, the Joads learn to become less insular and embrace the community of migrants around them.

The themes of the book include social injustice and family, its sympathy lies with the plight of the Joad family and their fellow migrant workers. It shows us the discrimination and unfair treatment of those who were poor and without jobs at the hands of landowners.

During the great depression in the U.S, there was a lot of unrest due to the influx of migrant workers. Business tycoons and landowners in California deemed The Grapes of Wrath to be ‘anti-capitalist’, feeling they were misrepresented in the novel. Some went as far as publicly burning copies of the book.

Despite their protests, it was admired by both the public and critics alike, winning both the National book award and the Pulitzer prize.

East of Eden (1952)

John Steinbeck’s epic novel, published in 1952, spans three generations from the American civil war to the first world war. The book largely follows the Trask family from the patriarch Cyrus, to his sons Adam and Charles and finally Adam’s sons Aron and Cal. Adam Trask marries Cathy, a woman who murdered her parents and stole their money. Cathy becomes pregnant and tries to perform an abortion but fails and gives birth to two boys, Cal and Aron.

The novel is about good and evil, and the question of whether a person is born evil or becomes evil over time.

The book draws on the bible, particularly the story of Cain and Abel. In the bible, Cain feels jealous of Adam's love for Abel, and Cain questions whether or not he was born evil.

In the story, we are twice reminded of this biblical tale, the first being Charles’ jealousy towards his brother Adam, and then with Adam’s two sons Cal and Aron, for Cal is jealous of his brother Aron. Cal feels he has inherited his evil feelings from his mother Cathy, and he sees Aron as the epitome of good, inherited from their father Adam.

John Steinbeck’s quotes

Here are some quotes that explains John Steinbeck's views and philosophy on life.

Twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream. ⁠— The Grapes of Wrath

This quote describes the experiences of a group of migrant workers during the Great Depression, who are forced to leave their homes in Oklahoma and travel to California in search of work and a better life. The quote reflects the sense of community and solidarity that develops among the migrants as they face common hardships and difficulties. Despite their individual losses and struggles, they come together and form a single, unified family.

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.

This quote is Steinbeck's reflection on creativity, which is phrased as a playful and imaginative comparison between ideas and rabbits. The comparison suggests that ideas can multiply and grow quickly, just as rabbits can breed and increase their numbers. The quote emphasizes the creative and generative power of the mind, and the importance of nurturing and developing one's ideas in order to generate new and exciting ideas.

Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.

This quote makes a distinction between two sources of corruption: power and fear. The line 'power does not corrupt' suggests that having power in and of itself does not lead to corruption. Instead, the quote suggests that people become corrupted because of their fear of losing power. The fear of losing power can drive individuals to take actions that are unethical or immoral in order to maintain their hold on power. The quote highlights the idea that fear is a powerful and destructive force, and that it can lead to corruption and abuse of power.

If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need - go to the poor people. They’re the only ones who will help- the only ones.

This quote reflects the idea that poor people are often more likely to offer help and support to those in need than wealthy or affluent individuals. Steinbeck reflects on the idea that poor people are often more compassionate, empathetic, and supportive, and that they are less likely to be motivated by selfish or mercenary concerns.

The quote highlights the importance of reaching out to those in need and the power of community and support to help people through difficult times. It also highlights the idea that wealth and affluence do not always correlate with generosity and kindness, and that sometimes the most helpful and supportive individuals can be found in unexpected places.

Interesting facts about John Steinbeck

Growing up during the early twentieth century means Steinbeck has some interesting facts from his life experiences.

  • John Steinbeck not only wrote books but wrote several films as well. He wrote adaptions for his books and also directly for the screen, including Viva Zapata! (1952).
  • Struggling for success in his writing career, John Steinbeck had to work as a caretaker in Lake Tahoe to make ends meet.
  • The first draft of the novelOf Mice and Men was eaten by his dog, Toby. Steinbeck took the act well, saying, 'I was pretty mad but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically'
  • East of Eden (1955) became a successful film starring James Dean, who won a posthumous Oscar for his role.

John Steinbeck wrote thirty-three books; some of his most famous novels informed the world of the plight of the working classes. His books were both imaginative and realistic, and often sympathetic. His lifetime work was recognised in 1962 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) - Key takeaways

  • John Steinbeck was born on February 27th 1902 in Salinas, California.

  • An American author who received acclaim for novels such as The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.

  • Often wrote novels concerning the plight of the poor working class in America.

  • His book, The Grapes of Wrath, won both the National Book Award and The Pulitzer Prize.

  • He won The Nobel Prize for literature in 1962.

  • He died on 20th December 1968 from heart failure.

Frequently Asked Questions about John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck’s most famous novels were The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. The former won the National Book award and The Pulitzer Prize.

John Steinbeck was an American novelist who wrote over 30 books and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962

John Steinbeck died in 1968 due to heart failure as a result of heart disease.

The first draft of the novel Of Mice and Men was eaten by his dog, Toby. 

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