John Steinbeck

July 26, 2006


John Ernst Steinbeck III
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962
Wrote in the naturalist style, portraying people as the center of his stories
Incorporated many personal interests in his writing including:marine biology, jazz, politics, philosophy, history, and myth

The Grapes of Wrath 1939

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1940, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962
Set in the Great Depression; the story of a family of sharecroppers, the Joads, who are driven from their land by the Dust Bowl and forced to move West
Descriptive, narrative, and philosophical chapters succeed one another
The title is a reference to the Battle Hymn of the Republic


Cannery Row (1945)

Takes place in the small strip of industrial land in Monterey known as Cannery Row
Focuses on the relationship between local grocer Lee Chong, marine biologist Doc and Mack, the leader of a group of bums
Combines themes of human compassion with ideas of eastern philosophy
The character Doc is based off of Steinbeck’s close friend Ed Ricketts


“Lee Chong stood in back of the cigar counter and his nice brown eyes were turned inward on a calm and eternal Chinese sorrow. He knew he could not have helped it, but he wished he might have known and perhaps tried to help. It was deeply a part of Lee’s kindness and understanding that man’s right to kill himself is inviolable, but sometimes a friend can make it unnecessary.”

“In the pipes and under the cypress tree there had been no room for furniture and the little niceties which are not only the diagnoses but the boundaries of our civilization.”

“Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gioft of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth, must have a great and overwhelming love for no-goods and blots-on-the-town and bums, and Mack and the boys. Virtues and graces and laziness and zest. Our Father who art in nature.”

“Now William’s heart broke. The bums would not receive him socially. They felt that he was too far beneath them. William had always been introspective and self-accusing. He put on his hat and walked out along the sea, clear out to the Lighthouse. And he stood in the pretty little cemetery where you can hear the waves drumming always. William thought dark and broody thoughts, No one loved him. No one cared about him. They might call him a watchman but he was a pimp- a dirty pimp, the lowest thing in the world. And then he thought how he had  aright to live and be happy just like anyone else, by God he had.”

“The Greek laid the ice pick on the stove and rolled his sleeves high. ‘I tell you what I hear, Kits,’ he said. ‘I hear like the fella talks about it don’t never do it.’ William’s hand went out for the ice pick and he held it easily in his hand. His eyes looked deeply into the Greek’s dark eyes and he saw disbelief and amusement and then as he started the Greek’s eyes grew troubled and then worried. And William saw the change, saw first how the Greek knew he could do it and then the Greek knew he would do it. As soon as he saw that in the Greek’s eyes William knew he had to do it. He was sad because now it seemed silly. His hand rose and the ice pick snapped into his hear. It was amazing how easily it went it.”

“The old man stopped and turned. Andy stopped. The deep-brown eyes looked at Andy and the thin corded lips moved. What happened then Andy was never able either to explain or to forget. For the eyes spread out until there was no Chinaman. And then it was one eye-one huge brown eye as big as a church door. Andy looked through the shiny transparent brown door and through it he saw a lonely countryside, flat for miles but ending against a row of fantastic mountains shaped like cows’ and dogs’ heads and tents and mushrooms. There was low coarse grass on the plain and here and there a little mound. And a small animal like a woodchuck sat on each mound. And the loneliness- the desolate cold aloneness of the landscape made Andy whimper because there wasn’t anybody at all in the world and he was left. Andy shut his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see it any more and when he opened them, he was in Cannery Row and the old Chinaman was just flap-flapping between Western Biological and the Hediondo Cannery. Andy was the only boy who ever did that and he never did it again.”

“Doc was collecting marine animals in the Great Tide Pool on the tip of the Peninsula. It is a fabulous place: when the tide is in, a wave-churned basin, creamy with foam, whipped by the combers that roll in from the whistling buoy on the reef. But when the tide goes out the little water world becomes quiet and lovely. The sea is very clear and the bottom becomes fantastic with hurrying, fighting, feeding, breeding animals.Crabs rush from frond to frond of the waving algae. Starfish squat over mussels and limpets, attach their million little suckers and then slowly lift with incredible power until the prey is broken from the rock. And then the starfish stomach comes out and envelopes its food. Orange and speckled and fluted nudibranchs slide gracefully over the rocks, their skirts waving like the dresses of Spanish dances. And black eels poke their heads out of crevices and wait for prey. The snapping shrimps with their trigger claws pop loudly. The lovely, colored world is glassed over. Hermit crabs like frantic children scamper on the bottom sand. And now one, finding an empty snail shell he likes better than his own, creeps out, exposing his soft body to the enemy for a moment, and then pops into the new shell. A wave breaks over the barrier, and churns the glassy water for a moment and mixes bubbles into the pool, and then it clears and is tranquil and lovely and murderous again. Here a crab tears a leg from his brother. The anemones expand like soft and brilliant flowers, inviting any tired and perplexed animal to lie for a moment in their arms, and when some small crab or little tide-pool Johnnie accepts the green and purple invitation, the petals whip in, the stinging cells shoot tiny narcotic needles into the prey and it grows weak and perhaps sleepy while the searing caustic digestive acids melt its body down.”

“The smells of life and richness, of death and digestion, of decay and birth, burden the air.”

“‘And you know as good as me- Gay never did take any pleasure beating her up. He only done it to keep his self-respect. But he gets tired of it.'”

“He looked upon himself as a crystal pool of clarity and on his life as a troubled glass of misunderstood virtue.”

“Hazel turned one of the stink bugs over with the toe of his wet tennis shoe and the shining black beetle strove madly with floundering legs to get upright again. ‘Well, why do you think they do it?’
‘I think they’re praying,’ said Doc.
‘What!’ Hazel was shocked.
‘The remarkable thing,’ said Doc, ‘Isn’t that they put their tails up in the air- the really incredibly remarkable tyhing is that we find it remarkable. We can only use ourselves as yardsticks. If we did something as inexplicable and strange we’d probably be praying- so maybe they’re praying.'”

“Mack tasted his- a big taste- and refilled his glass. ‘Yes,’ he said somberly, ‘it’s little things make the difference.’ He looked about to see how this gem had set with the others.”

“In time the new boiler arrived and the old one was moved into the vacant lot between Lee Chong’s and the Bear Flag Restaurant where it was set on blocks to await an inspiration on Mr. Randolph’s part on how to make some money out of it. Gradually the plant engineer removed the tubing to use to patch other outworn equipment at the Hediondo. The boiler looked like an old-fashioned locomotive without wheels. It had a big door in the center of its nose and a low fire door. Gradually it became red and soft with rust and gradually the mallow weeds grew up around it and the flaking rust fed the weeds. Flowering myrtle crept up its sides and the sild anise perfumed the air about it. Then someone threw out a datura root and the thick fleshy tree grew up and the great white bells hund down over the boiler door and at night the flowers smelled of love and excitement, an incredibly sweet and moving odor.”

“Someone should write an erudity essay on the moral, physical, and esthetic effect of the Model T Ford on the American nation. Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford coil than the clitoris, about the planetary system of gears than the solar system of stars. With the Model T, part of the concept of private property disappeared. Pliers ceased to be privately owned and a tire pump belonged to the last man who had picked it up. Most of the babies of the period were conceived in Model T Fords and not a few were born in them. The theory of the Anglo Saxon home became so warped that it never quite recovered.”

“Luck blossomed from the first. A dusty Rhode Island red rooster who had wandered too far from his own farmyard crossed the road and Eddie hit him without running too far off the road. Sitting in the back of the truck, Hazel picked him as they went and let the feathers fly from his hand, the most widely distributed evidence on record, for there was a little breeze in the morning blowing down from Jamesburg and ome of the red chicken feathers were deposited on Pt. Lobos and some even blew out ot sea.”

“During the millennia that frogs and men have lived in the same world, it is probable that men have hunted frogs. And during that time a pattern of hunt and parry has developed. The man with net or bow or lance or gun creeps noiselessly, as he thinks, toward the frog. The pattern requires that the frog sit still, sit very still and wait. The rules of the game require the frog to wait until the final flicker of a second, when the net is descending, when the lance is int he air, when the finger squeezes the trigger, then the frog jumps, plops into the water, swims to the bottom an waits until the man goes away. That is the way it is done, the way it has always been done. Frogs have every right to expect it will always be done that way. Now and then the net is too quick, the lance pierces, the gun flicks and that frog is gone, but it is all fair and in the framework. Frogs don’t resent that.”

“On the bottoms lie the incredible refuse of the sea, shells broken and chipped and bits of skeleton, claws, the whole sea bottom a fantastic cemetery on which the living scamper and scramble.”

“‘But what am I going to do?’ Henri asked. ‘If I see it again I’ll know what’s going to happen and I’m sure I’ll die. You see he doesn’t look like a murderer. He looks nice and the kid looks nice and neither of them give a damn. But he cut that baby’s throat. I saw it.'”

“For there are two possible reactions to social ostracism- either a man emerges determined to be better, purer, and kindlier or he goes bad, challenges the world and does even worse things. This last is by far the commonest reaction to stigma.”

“It’s all fine to say, ‘Time will heal everything, this too shall pass away. People will forget’- and things like that when you are not involved, but when you are there is no passage of time, people do not forget and you are in the middle of something that does not change. Doc didn’t know the pain and self-destructive criticism in the Palace Flophouse or he might have tried to do something about it. And Mack and the boys did not know how he felt or they would have held up their heads again.”

“In the afternoons when Tom was at work Mary sometimes gave tea parties for the neighborhood cats. She set a footstool with doll cups and saucers. She gathered the cats, and there were plenty of them, and then she held long and detailed conversations with them. It was a kind of play she enjoyed very much- a kind of satiric game and it covered and concealed from Mary the fact that she didn’t have very nice clothes and the Talbots didin’t have any money. They were pretty near absolute bottom most of the time, and when they really scraped, Mary managed to give some kind of a party.
She could do that. She could infect a whole house with gaiety and she used her gift as a weapon against the despondency that lurked always around outside the house waiting to get in at Tom. That was Mary’s job as she saw it- to keep the despondency away from Tom because everyone knew he was going to be a great success some times. Mostly she was successful in keeping the dark things out of the house but sometimes they got in at Tom and laid him out. Then he would sit and brood for hours while Mary frantically built up a backfire of gaiety.”

“‘Where’s your old man now?’ he asked in a conversational tone.
‘He’s dead,’ said Joey.
‘Oh yeah? I didn’t hear. What’d he die of?’
For a moment Joey was silent. He knew Willard knew but he couldn’t let on he knew, not without fighting Willard, and Joey was afraid of Willard.
‘He committed- he killed himself.’
‘Yeah?’ Willard put on a long face. ‘How’d he do it?’
‘He took rat poison.’
Willard’s voice shrieked with laughter. ‘What’d he think- he was a rat?’
Joey chuckled a little at the joke, just enough, that is.
‘He must of thought he was a rat,’ Willard cried. ‘Did he go crawling around like this- look, Joey- like this? Did he wrinkle up his nose like this? Did he have a big old long tail?’ Willard was helpless with laughter. ‘Why’n’t he just get a rat trap and put his head in it?’ They laughed themselves out on that one, Willard really wore it out. Then he probed for another joke. ‘What’d he look like when he took it- like this?’ He crossed his eyes and opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue.
‘He was sick all day,’ said Joey. ‘He didn’t die ’til the middle of the night. It hurt him.’
Willard said, ‘What’d he do it for?’
‘He couldn’t get a job,’ said Joey. ‘Nearly a year he coldn’t get a job. And you know the funny thing? The next morning a guy come around to give him a job.’
Willard tried to recapture his joke. ‘I guess he just figured he was a rat,’ he said, but it fell through even for Willard.”

“‘How much is that?’ Frankie asked huskily.
‘You mean the clock? Fifty dollars- with the group seventy-five dollars.’
Frankie walked out without replying. He went down to the beach and crawled under an overturned rowboat and peeked out at the little waves. The bronze beauty was so strong in his head that it seemed to stand out in front of him. And a frantic trapped feeling came over him. He had to get the beauty. His eyes were fierce when he thought of it.
He stayed under the boat all day and at night he emerged and went back to Alvarado Street. While people went to the movies and came out and went to the Golden Poppy, he walked up and down the block. And he didn’t get tired or sleepy, for the beauty burned in him like fire….
‘What’s the matter, Frankie?’ Doc asked.
‘He broke into Jacob’s last night,’ the chief said. ‘Stole some stuff. We got in touch with his mother. She says it’s not her fault because he hangs around your place all the time.’
‘Frankie- you shouldn’t have done it,’ said Doc. The heavy stone of inevitability was on his heart. ‘Can’t you parole him to me?’ Doc asked.
‘I don’t think the judge will do it,’ said the chief. ‘We’ve got a mental report. You know what’s wrong with him?’
‘Yes,’ said Doc, ‘I know.’
‘And you know what’s likely to happen when he comes into puberty?’
‘Yes,’ said Doc, ‘I know,’ and the stone weighed terribly on his heart.
‘The doctor thinks we better put him away. We couldn’t before, but now he’s got a felony on him, I think we better.’
As Frankie listened the welcome died in his eyes.
‘What did he take?’ Doc asked.
‘A great big clock and a bronze statue.’
‘I’ll pay for it.’
‘Oh, we got it back. I don’t think the judge will hear of it. It’ll just happen again. You know that.’
‘Yes,’ said Doc softly, ‘I know. But maybe he had a reason. Frankie,’ he said, ‘why did you take it?’
Frankie looked a long time at him. ‘I love you,’ he said.”

“Even now
I mind the coming and talking of wise men from towers
Where they had thought away their youth. And I, listening,
Found not the salt of the whispers of my girl,
Murmur of confused colors, as we lay near sleep;
Little wise words and little witty words,
Wanton as water, honied with eagerness.”

East of Eden (1952)

Claimed to be Steinbeck’s most ambitious novel
Brings to life intricate details of the Trask and the Hamilton families
Originally addressed to Steinbeck’s sons Thom and John: Steinbeck wanted to describe the Salinas Valley for them in detail
Ties themes together with parallels to the biblical Book of Genesis

“It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years. I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.”



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