John Steinbeck and his View of the American Society

John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968)

John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968)

On February 27, 1902, American writer and Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck was born. His works comprise twenty-seven books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books, and five collections of short stories, among them ‘The Grapes of Wrath‘, ‘East of Eden‘, and ‘Of Mice and Men‘.

John Steinbeck grew up in California and also many of his later stories play in the area south of San Francisco. Steinbeck noticed his interest in literature early and began writing stories as a student. In 1919, he enrolled at Stanford University, studying journalism, English literature, classical literature and history. During semester breaks, Steinbeck worked on farms, at construction areas and factories. It became more and more clear, that the student was rather unsatisfied with the life as an academic and he dropped out of university, realizing that his jobs had a much greater influence on him than his actual classes. In his later works, he often worked up his experiences he made in these milieus.

Before publishing his very first novel, Steinbeck tried his luck in New York City, but was disappointed, wherefore he returned to California quickly. When ‘Cup of Gold‘ was published, it stayed rather unnoticed by critics, just like his next two works. The first real success set in with the novel ‘Tortilla Flat‘, published in 1935. It is assumed that the 17 stories in this work were inspired by Steinbeck’s co-workers at a sugar factory. In the following period, Steinbeck published ‘In Dubious Battle‘, which led to a contract with the the San Francisco News. Steinbeck was supposed to write about migrant workers from Oklahoma and his intense research on the topic is supposed to have inspired his masterpieces ‘Of Mice and Men‘, published in 1937 and ‘The Grapes of Wrath‘ from 1939. For ‘The Grapes of Wrath‘, Steinbeck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, since the novel was not only seen as an amazing piece of literature but also as a remarkable historical resource.[4]

When World War II started, Steinbeck joined the ‘Foreign Information Service’ and realized several propaganda projects, resulting in the theater play ‘The Moon is Down‘. After the war, Steinbeck was highly influenced by an old friend, who was occupied as a marine biologist and showed him completely new perspectives to his environment. The scientist was often ‘used’ as a literary figure in his following works including ‘Cannery Row‘ and ‘The Log from the Sea of Cortez‘. Unfortunately, it was hard for Steinbeck to continue his success with his later works. He traveled through Scandinavia, France and Africa, gathering new energy inspiration for another masterpiece, ‘East of Eden‘, published in 1952.

After a stroke in 1959, Steinbeck decided to get to know his country once more. He traveled across the United States, writing about the American society and publishing another work titled ‘Travels with Charley: In Search of America‘ in 1962. The work is quite a mixture of Steinbeck’s reflection of the American culture, road trip stories, and a travel guide. The author wrote about the people he met and the conversations they had. On this day, the book gives a pretty good introduction to U.S during the 1960s. In the same year the book was published, Steinbeck was told that he will be awarded the Nobel Prize. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature for his “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” The selection was heavily criticized, and described as “one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes” in one Swedish newspaper. The reaction of American literary critics was also harsh. However, in his acceptance speech later in the year in Stockholm, John Steinbeck said:

“..the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.”
— Steinbeck Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1962

In September 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Steinbeck Presidential Medal of Freedom. John Steinbeck died in New York City on December 20, 1968, of heart disease and congestive heart failure. He was 66, and had been a lifelong smoker. Today, many of Steinbeck’s works are required reading in American high schools. A study by the Center for the Learning and Teaching of Literature in the United States found that Of Mice and Men was one of the ten most frequently read books in public high schools. Contrarywise, Steinbeck’s works also have been frequently banned in the United States.

At yovisto academic video search, you may be interested in the Nobel Prize lecture by John Steinbeck himself.

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