An American author and winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize for literature, John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr., was born in Salinas, Calif., on February 27, 1902. He died on Dec. 20th, 1968. He based most of his novels on the American experience, often with sympathetic focus on the poor, the eccentric, or the dispossessed.
Early Life and Works
Steinbeck grew up in Salinas Valley, a richagricultural area of Monterey County and the setting of many of his works, where he learned firsthand of the difficulties of farm laborers. From 1919 to 1925 he studied intermittently at Stanford University but did not receive a degree.
Steinbeck's first published book, Cup of Gold (1929), was not successful. He then turned to the valleys of rural California for his settings and characters. ThePastures of Heaven (1932) contains a series of closely linked tales about residents of California. To a God Unknown (1933) relates a mystical story of self-sacrifice and is one of Steinbeck's strongest statements about the relationship between people and the land. The Long Valley (1938) is a collection of short stories, among them "The Red Pony," which chronicles the initiation of a ranch boy,Jody Tiflin, into manhood.
Steinbeck's first popular success was Tortilla Flat (1935), an episodic tale that recounts semihumorously the adventures of a raffish band of Mexican-Americans. The books that ensued were terse and grim. In Dubious Battle (1936) is the tragic story of a young labor organizer during an apple pickers' strike. OF MICE AND MEN (1937) depicts the lives oftwo itinerant farm workers and the tragedy that comes when their dreams are shattered. Written as a "play-novel," it was produced on Broadway in 1937 and filmed in 1939. Their Blood Is Strong (1938) is a nonfictional account of conditions in migrant agricultural workers' camps derived largely from articles written for the San Francisco News. It probably formed the basis for The GRAPES OF WRATH(1939; film, 1940), which won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and brought the plight of dispossessed farmers to the public's attention.
Later Life and Works
After the film success of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck turned to filmmaking himself with screenplays for The Forgotten Village (1941) and Viva Zapata! (1952), the first about efforts to bring modern medicine to remote Mexicanvillages, and the latter about a Mexican revolutionary leader. In the meantime he wrote The Moon Is Down (1942), a play-novel about the German invasion of a neutral European country.
After World War II, Steinbeck wrote increasingly about social outcasts. Cannery Row (1945) relates the story of a central character, Doc, and a group of vagabonds on the Monterey coast. The Pearl (1947) is a popularfable about a Mexican fisherman's finding and finally discarding a valuable pearl that brings him only grief. The Wayward Bus (1947) presents a morality tale about characters who supposedly represent middle-class society. Burning Bright (1950), a play-novel, preached the theme of universal brotherhood but was largely unsuccessful.
Steinbeck devoted several years to his most ambitious project, Eastof Eden (1952; film, 1955), which paralleled the history of his mother's family and was an allegorical modernization of the biblical story of Adam. Subsequent novels proved anticlimactic--Sweet Thursday (1954), a sentimental sequel to Cannery Row; The Short Reign of Pippin IV (1957), a burlesque; Once There Was a War (1958); and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), a moralistic tale about adecaying Long Island seaport.
Steinbeck spent many of his later years writing a modern version of Malory's Morte d'Arthur, published posthumously and incomplete as The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976). He also wrote about his travels and opinions in Once There Was a War (1958), Travels with Charley (1962), and America and Americans (1966). Steinbeck has remained popular for his...