John Steinbeck Essay
John Steinbeck is simply one of America’s finest storytellers. He is an accomplished author and a Nobel Laureate in Literature. However, his road to success was not easy. His earlier novels failed to attract attention, and it took many years before he got the recognition he deserved. Like most writers, his experiences and his hometown were crucial in the creation of his stories. Thus, Steinbeck’s works were greatly influenced by his life and the environment in which he lived. John Ernst Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California (National Steinbeck Center [NSC], n. d. ).
His parents were John Steinbeck, Sr., and Olive Hamilton Steinbeck. His father was a County Treasurer and his mother was a school teacher (NSC, n. d. ). It was his mother who was responsible for his love of reading and writing (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). His favorite books included Le Morte d’ Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Paradise Lost by John Milton (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). He usually spent his summer vacations working on ranches and farms (NSC, n. d. ). It is from this experience where he derived his knowledge of the countryside and its people, which he later used in his stories (NSC, n.d. ).
Steinbeck graduated from Salinas High School in 1919 (NSC, n. d. ), and proceeded to study marine biology in Stanford University (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). To pay for his education, he took many jobs, which led him to miss several quarters of school (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). He was already a writer in college, with several poems and short stories included in university publications as proof (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). In 1925, Steinbeck left Stanford University and proceeded to New York to start his writing career (NSC, n. d. ).
He began his writing career in New York as a reporter for American (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). Despite this brief writing stint, Steinbeck was still unsuccessful in terms of fiction. He failed to publish any of his written works, forcing him to return to California (NSC, n. d. ). He was still a writer, but he also had other jobs as well. His jobs included fruit picking, painting, surveying, being an estate caretaker and a house watchman (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). In 1929, Cup of Gold was written when Steinbeck was a house watchman (“John Steinbeck,” 2003).
It failed to return the publisher’s investment (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). His next two novels, The Pastures of Heaven and To a God Unknown, were also unsuccessful (NSC, n. d. ). In 1930, Steinbeck married his first wife Carol Henning. The 30s also marked an improvement in his writing career, as his first literary success Tortilla Flat was published in 1935 (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). Tortilla Flat was later adapted into a movie. Steinbeck’s success continued, with the release Of Mice and Men in 1937, and The Grapes of Wrath in 1939. Soon after, he won a Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath.
During the Second World War, he went back to his journalistic roots, as a correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune (NSC, n. d. ). In 1942, Steinbeck’s relationship with Henning ended (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). He then married Gwyndolyn Conger, but the marriage did not last (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). In 1950, he married again, this time to Elaine Scott (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). It was also in the 50s when he published another great book of his, East of Eden in 1952 (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (NSC, n. d. ). Four years after, he passed away, in the 20th of December (NSC, n.d. ).
Steinbeck’s literary pieces are filled with references to his own life. The most prominent reference was the setting. Most of his stories, if not all, feature his hometown of Salinas. This is only proof that his hometown was very significant for him, that he refused to exclude it in his works. The Pastures of Heaven is a great example. There is a valley in California, which is located between Salinas and Monterey (Paik, 2006). The name of the valley is Corral de Tierra, but Steinbeck referred to this valley as “pastures of heaven,” hence the title of his book (Paik, 2006).
Moreover, it was also found that since The Pastures of Heaven consists of short stories, Steinbeck’s intention to unify them may bear a similarity to Milton’s Paradise Lost (Meyer, 2007). This is no surprise, since it was one of his favorite books. Tortilla Flat is another Steinbeck novel which referenced his hometown. Tortilla Flat is another town in California, near Monterey. The theme of the story was based on King Arthur and the Round Table (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). Steinbeck might have derived this idea from another favorite book of his, Le Morte d’ Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.
In addition, he included the plight of farmers within the story (Pollock, 2006), the inspiration of which was probably taken from his summers as a farmhand. The Log from the Sea of Cortez is another Steinbeck text that, despite having no connection with California, was still a result of his life experiences. When Steinbeck was married to Carol, they lived in Pacific Grove (NSC, n. d. ). It was in Pacific Grove were he met Edward Ricketts, a marine biologist (“John Steinbeck,” 2003). They quickly became friends, probably because they shared the same interest in biology, which Steinbeck took in college.
In 1940, Ricketts and Steinbeck boarded The Western Flyer, a fishing boat they hired for the expedition (Weiss, 1999). Both men explored the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez (Weiss, 1999). Steinbeck published the book Sea of Cortez, which was re-released as The Log from the Sea of Cortez (Weiss, 1999). Steinbeck’s maturity as a writer is difficult to trace, simply because he started out as a journalist and later became a fiction writer. News writing and fiction writing are two different fields, both of which are essential parts of Steinbeck’s career. Nonetheless, regardless of genre, Steinbeck’s talent is undeniable.
Only he could write with a balance of “realistic naturalism” and “moral optimism” within his stories (Phillips, 2006). Consequently, Steinbeck’s writing strength lies on his social commentary, the focus of which was the economic struggles of laborers in the rural areas (Nobel Foundation 1962). His love for the California landscape is also another Steinbeck trademark, which is not always compatible with his straightforward sociological kind of writing (Nobel Foundation, 1962). Despite this, John Steinbeck remains a remarkable author whose legacy will stay for generations.
He was one of the many who created literary masterpieces that was extremely influenced by his own life and the surroundings in which he lived. References John Steinbeck (1902-1968). Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://www. kirjasto. sci. fi/johnstei. htm Meyer, M. J. (2007). The Pastures of Heaven. The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://www. litencyc. com/php/sworks. php? rec=true&UID=7353 National Steinbeck Center (n. d. ).
Biography. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://www. steinbeck. org/Bio. html Nobel Foundation (1962). Biography. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1962/steinbeck-bio. html Paik, F. (2006). Pastures of heaven. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://www. forbes. com/2001/11/09/1109how. html Phillips, B. (2006). SparkNote on East of Eden.
Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://www. sparknotes. com/lit/eastofeden/context. html Pollock, F. J. (2006). SparkNote on Tortilla Flat. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://www. sparknotes. com/lit/tortillaflat/context. html Weiss, D. (1999). The log of the sea of Cortez. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://www. ecotopia. org/about/cortez. html.
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