One hundred and eighteen years ago this week, John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California. This is where he wrote many of his best-known stories. Steinbeck, who himself had lived in poverty, rose to fame in 1935 when his fifth book, Tortilla Flat, came out. He went on to become one of the best-known social novelists in American history.
His books were often about people who were poor, like migrants who worked on farms and Dust Bowl drifters who tried to stay afloat during the Great Depression. One of these, The Grapes of Wrath, won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda, and was a big part of his 1962 Nobel Prize speech.
Our five favorite Steinbeck works are shown below. They range from the simple-but-devastating novella “Of Mice and Men” to the epic, multigenerational melodrama “East of Eden,” which we think is his best.
Tortilla Flat (1935)
Thoughts are slow and deep in the morning. They are also golden.
It’s called “Tortilla Flat,” and it’s in the town of Monterey in California. The paisanos are a mix of Spanish, Indian Mexican, and other types of blood. They live in this area. In John Steinbeck’s story, they appear to be a gentle race of sun-loving, heavy wine-drinking, antisocial loafers and hoodlums who work only when they need to and live by a series of devious schemes that are mostly or mostly outside the law.
He tells a lot of good stories about Danny’s house in his book. In English, he has a way of making fun of Spanish words and phrases and making them sound like they’re being gently mocked in English. We think the book is as funny all the time as February Hill. But we don’t think that life in Tortilla Flat is as carefree and fun as Steinbeck has made it seem.
Fred T. Marsh: –The New York Times, June 2, 1935: –Fred T. Marsh:
Of Mice and Men (1937)
Everybody might be afraid of each other.
“John Steinbeck is not just a master of the art of telling stories, but he is one.” People who live in Tortilla Flat and people who fight in In Dubious Battle both have a story to tell. To read Of Mice and Men, you have to keep reading until it is done. It is a thriller, and the story is so interesting that you won’t be able to put it down until it’s done. More than that, but it’s that.
“The theme is not that mice and men’s best-laid plans go awry.” As in other stories, they do. Besides, it’s an old joke about what men live on besides bread. When Steinbeck tells this short story, he does it in a way that is sure, loud, and vulgar.
It was written by Fred T. Marsh, who worked for the New York Times.
The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
There is no sin or virtue. There’s just things people do.
Longer and more angry than any other work by Steinbeck. It’s also one of the most impressive.
There are a lot of deaths on the road, but there isn’t much time to be sad. Grampa is the first person to die. Burned-out bearings are a greater tragedy than death. Steinbeck describes them as if he were singing about the heroics of the Greeks at the siege of Troy… The first half-dozen of these interludes have not only broadened the scope of the book, but they have also been effective in their own right. They have been sad, bitter, and intensely moving. It gets worse when the Joads get to California. Author: The migrants will unite and overthrow their oppressors. He wants to argue about it, as if he wasn’t sure about it himself. Even though the story had flaws, people quickly forget about them. You think of Steinbeck’s sympathy for the migrants most of all, not pity or love, because that would mean he was above them or blind to their flaws. Instead, it was a deep sense of shared humanity. It makes him notice everything that makes them different from the rest of the world and makes one migrant different from the rest.
It was May 3, 1939, and Malcolm Cowley was writing in the New Republic at the time.
Cannery Row (1945)
This means that he can kill anything for food, but he can’t even hurt a feeling for pleasure.
“Cannery Row” in Monterey, California, is a “poem, a smell, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream,” says the author. Here, Steinbeck says that his story is about people who live on the wrong side of the tracks and enjoy their lives. He weaves together in a strong and delicate way all of the different colors of the big events in their lives.
A child’s grin looks simple at first, but it turns out to be very charming. It’s complicated but not complicated at all. When you read the book Cannery Row, you’ll read about a lot of small things and small people. It has a strange, shimmering beauty that is filled with the quiet joy and dumb, haunting sorrow that comes from living on the outside of a group of people to which they can never belong.
There was a story in the Cincinnati Enquirer on January 20, 1945 by John O. Chappell Jr. that said:
East of Eden (1952)
Strong women may be more powerful than men if they have love in their hearts. I think a loving woman can’t be broken.
Today, John Steinbeck’s best and most ambitious book since The Grapes of Wrath is out. I think it’s called East of Eden. It’s about 150,000 words long. East of Eden, even though it’s not very well-structured and has a lot of cheap drama and melodrama, is still a serious and mostly successful movie about a big subject. The theme is moral, and it talks about good and bad and how they mix together. This gives meaning to everything that people do. In the thirteen years since The Grapes of Wrath came out, John Steinbeck has been seen as a writer who went down blind alleys, wasted his great skills on small books, and stumbled and groped through his one confused ideas about human character and life itself. This is what he has come up with now, in East of Eden. It is a good and kind philosophy. A lot has changed since Cannery Row or The Wayward Bus. People aren’t as weak and disgusting as they were in those two movies. Their lives are worth living because of ‘the glory of choice.’ East of Eden is a book by John Steinbeck that shows that people can make their own choices and that they have a lot of good in them.
“There is a fine, lusty sense of life here, a love of watching men and women fight for their separate fates, and a lot of good story telling.”
John Steinbeck has become more respectful of other people and more knowledgeable about them over the years. In the past, he has been mature and thoughtful about them. And he has done so in a way that is both interesting and thought-provoking. Eastern Eden is built around one central idea, which is the story of Cain and Abel. This story is one of the most important parallels to the story of East Eden. Here, we won’t find out what Mr. Steinbeck does with that famous story or how he thinks about it.