John Steinbeck was a Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist. John was born in 1902, on the 27th of February, in the town of Salinas, California. He is the author of Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, three of the best books that he has written.
Steinbeck didn’t finish his studies at college and went on to work as a manual laborer prior to his efforts in being a writer and achievement of sizeable success as a novelist. His writings dealt, most of the time, with issues of a socio-economic nature. Steinbeck, like mentioned above, drifted in and out of school, finally giving in to his urges in 1925, degreeless.
Best John Steinbeck Books
Following Stanford, Steinbeck gave freelance writing the old college try. He moved to New York, finding a job as a construction worker and, then, a reporter. He made his return to California, soon enough, and took a job as a caretaker in Lake Tahoe, beginning his career as a writer. Steinbeck served as a correspondent during the second World War, and the theme of the great war fills his writings often enough. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.
Of Mice and Men, the first of his truly great works, sees Steinbeck paving the road he would treat more than once, as his success only multiplied with each subsequent entry to his writing.
Impoverished, down-and-out workers George and Lennie are attempting to ‘work the American dream’ in California. The period where this is set in the one around the Great Depression.
Of the two, Lennie boasts a mild mental impairment, and George is with a routine compulsion to get them into trouble. Lennie’s own attitude towards George is that of a faithful, loyal companion. Their agreed-on goal is to own an acre of land and a single shack.
Steinbeck features his own hometown, Salinas Valley, as this is where George and Lennie find and secure a job as workers on the fields. Their mission, at this point, looks more attainable than ever. But, then, the duo finds themselves fallen into the pit of trouble and of problems, again, and a tragic ending is what ensues for both of the men.
The universal themes of friendship and giving a voice to the lonely and the poverty-stricken are present in Of Mice and Men. This work of Steinbeck’s has proved to be one of his best. It has since been transformed into a Broadway play, and has had three movies made in its glory.
East of Eden was first put on bookshelves in 1952. It is by no means an easy book to review, since it essentially bypasses a mere book for book’s worth. It is, instead, a complete saga.
In fact, the size of it – a whopping six-hundred pages (large ones, at that) – rivals that of Anna Karenina, and the plentiful events, developed characters, hidden meanings, metaphors only make it a stronger work, but a difficult one, also.
The greatest portion of the book’s story goes on about the Trasks. Starting out with grandfather named Cyrus, with his progeny Adam and Charles, then Adam’s own children Caleb and Aron, the plot spans a period of nigh-fifty years. From somewhere in the latter half of the 19th century, and until the end of the first World War.
Steinbeck goes in deep with the ventures of the Hamilton’s, who are also his own real-life ancestors, too, and even Steinbeck, himself, is featured in here, though lightly. The most prominent aspects of the story see good, evil, and the intrinsic-to-man struggle between the two of them.
Good and Evil
The overwhelming majority of the main characters represent, in the least, a facet of this struggle. We have the immaculately, viciously evil Cathy; the evil with a conscience Charles; the pure, virtuous Sam; the one too good for this world Aron; the confused one, Adam.
And then, we have the struggle itself. It occurs in the spirit of every man, and we see it both as a successful one and as a damning one. East of Eden is most often looked on as the best book by John Steinbeck.
The Grapes of Wrath was the book that got John Steinbeck the Nobel Prize for Literature, and as such it is one of the most complete works of Steinbeck, and even further, of the 20th century. It features the story, in chronicle-form, of two so-called families.
The Joads and the whole lot of migrant workers. Though they are joined together by way of blood, Steinbeck argues and proposes that it’s not their genetics that associates them. Instead, he supposes that the faithfulness and dedication to each other, that they each boast is what makes up the ‘family’.
In the lifestyle of the migrants, the idea of a biological family, having no other recourse due to the lack of a ‘home’, becomes a bygone thing. The road-life necessitates, by itself, that certain connections are made between everyone in the group.
This notion is first seen when the Joads are introduced to the Wilsons. Steinbeck continuously and dolefully mentions of the veritable suffering that the migrants are subjected to; and it is not one with unfavorable weather or a chance misfortune, as its reasons, but by the coevals of man.
Man divides himself using various categories – such as economic, social, ethnic –, and one of these categories is by wealth. The people with dominant positions, the rich, struggle to keep their own promontory-like stature, while the poor tenant attempts to get on the track to a better future.
Pain and Evil
A plain line is drawn over the populous, separating the privileged ones from those of misfortune, and this is what Steinbeck identifies as the literal source of evil and pain, for man.
The Pearl is the shortest of the tales by Steinbeck, at least of the ones we’ll speak on. It is a novella, and it was published in 1947, at the height of Steinbeck’s writing prowess and literary success.
The story goes on about a pearl diver, Kino, and his spouse, Juana, and their only child, Cayotito. They live in a brush hut, around the sea in Baja, California.
The child falls ill, and the parents haven’t the sufficient funds to pay for the care and aid of a doctor. Kino opts to pray that a large enough pearl will meet his dives, so that he can exchange it for money and get Cayotito the help much-needed. Kino gets what he wished for, but he is now threatened, along with his endearing family, by forces wholly evil.
The Pearl is actually a Mexican folk tale, though Steinbeck’s retelling is what makes it stand out as a literary work worthy of praise. Evocative language is used to describe and color the world of Kino and Juana, and their journeys into their feelings.
Genuinely, a simple story, barely a brisk 96 pages, The Pearl is written with the power and the beauty intrinsic, and it stands as one of the best John Steinbeck books.
Last, but not least, Cannery Row was published in 1945. To this day, in the minds of readers around the world, it is looked upon as one of the greatest he ever wrote. Almost twice the length of The Pearl, this short novel is centered around a group of people living in Monterey’ Cannery Row, a certain strip, to be exact.
It’s a painting of a distinct place and a very distinct time, coming to life with people that are, as many of Steinbeck’s characters are, impoverished and down. A sense of kinship, community and great hearts, though, are with these same people, and with that, they find merriment in their simple ways of live.
The story isn’t a large one, in fact, not much actually happens. Steinbeck’s main interest was with capturing the place in book-format, and he has done this masterfully. It is a touching, funny at times, vivid story, that leaves the reader unwilling to see it end. The characters make you want to stay just a bit longer than the book’s covers actually allow.
More to Read
As in many of Steinbeck’s works, he does a great job with the setting, as the reader finds himself seated next to the men present. The setting is, likewise, a pivotal point and very much needed in this story, aiding it in all the merits the story has.
Steinbeck and his novels are a treat for any literary lover. Other notable works by the master are The Red Pony, The Moon is Down and The Winter of Our Discontent.
Michael is a graduate of cultural studies and history. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and (surprise, surprise) reading. As a small-town librarian, he is currently relishing the silence and peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing.