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John Steinbeck - American Master Of Literature

Updated on August 18, 2017

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck is easily one of the greatest writers from these not so United States of America that ever lived. His work captures absolutely timeless characters in the depravity of a world driven by human greed and the wealthy classes incapability to be charitable, and he did so like none other before him within the medium of the English language. He was a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway, and had certainly experienced the Great Depression, an economic nightmare triggered entirely at the behest of international bankers for their own evil ends - and from that experience, he'd relate it to millions with unforgettable novels concerning man's inhumanity towards his fellows, and the human psyche's over infatuation with fiat currency.

My own first personal recollection of reading the work of John Steinbeck was probably sometime early on in High School, and we'd been assigned the classic tale of tragedy - the short novel The Pearl, a sad tale about the poor, sudden wealth, and the illusion that happiness would be found within it.

For his passion concerning the plight of the destitute, John Steinbeck would win many a Literary honour, and he'd be hounded and harassed by J.Edgar Hoover's FBI most of his adult life.

John Steinbeck


Young John Steinbeck holding onto a pony in his hometown of Salinas, California, in 1907

Close Personal Friend Of John Steinbeck, Naturalist Ed Ricketts


Young John Steinbeck

John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. was born on February 27, 1902, Salinas, California - just a few miles away from Monterrey Bay, and some of the most beautiful terrain in all of the world. Salinas was basically a frontier town then, and as the region contained some of the most fertile soil on the entire planet Earth, there were forever migrant workers there to harvest the fruits of a wealthy landowner's land, and there still are today.

John Ernst Steinbeck, the father of our giant of American literature, was the Monterrey County treasurer, and his mother, Olive Hamilton - a school teacher. Mother and son shared a passion for both reading and writing, and would their entire lives. The family attended a local Episcopal church, and during the Summers John would work side by side with migrant labourers in the fields picking fruits and vegetables. From those fertile fields John would learn some things about the harsher side of life, and the desperation of persons driven to migrant labour; and as I've seen those fields with my own eyes, I can tell you that the same could be learned there today.

In 1919 John Steinbeck graduated from Salinas High School, and enrolled in Stanford University where he would study for five years, and leave without a degree. Travel is often a stimulant for wisdom, and so John travelled, and he'd head to New York City - he'd work odd jobs, write, and fail to get anything published. Tiring of the failure, he returned to California working such menial jobs for such a great mind, that you'd hardly believe it were I to type them out for you - BUT, as tour guide for a fish hatchery, he'd meet his first wife. John Steinbeck and Carol Henning would marry, and they'd live in a family owned cottage for the entirety of the Great Depression, his parent's gave him free room and board, and loaned him enough money to where he could quit his job in a warehouse and focus on writing.

The efforts and loans made in good faith and the knowledge of the talent that their son had paid off for the parents of John Steinbeck, and for us all, and he'd publish Tortilla Flat - in 1935. John, his wife Carol, and friend Ed Ricketts would voyage in the Pacific to collect biological specimens, and John would pen a book about it, The Log from the Sea of Cortez., but his marriage was falling apart, and would end upon the book's publication in 1941. John would then marry another woman named Gwyn Conger, and with her the couple would have two sons, Thomas, and John.

Robert Capa (With Camera) And John Steinbeck


The Life And Travels Of John Steinbeck

Like his contemporary American giant of literature, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck would serve as a war correspondent during World War Two. He'd travel to Nazi occupied islands in the Caribbean, and then he'd travel to Nazi occupied North Africa, and survive a close call with an explosion at a munitions dump, and then resign - weary of war.

Post war, Steinbeck would travel often to the Soviet Union, and perhaps he identified with the communist ideal? Sue me - I do too. Visiting Moscow, Kiev, Tbilisi, Batumi and Stalingrad with photographer Robert Capa, the two would publish A Russian Journal and be two of the very few Americans that had been able to visit the Soviet monster state after the transition.

By 1948 John's second wife was sick of his travelling for his work, and she'd divorce him, and he'd directly marry his third wife, Elaine Scott.Sometimes the third time really is the charm, and John's third marriage would be the right kind of marriage, and only at his death would they part.

He'd spend the first several years of their marriage in deep depression as his best friend, Ed Ricketts, had been in a car that was hit by a train, and had died. Ed had been a major influence on John, and from the beginning of his literary career.Ricketts was a naturalist, and his love of ecology had affected John thoroughly, at least four of the John Steinbeck novels featured a character that was based entirely upon the very real Ed Ricketts. When Ricketts passed away - the writing of Steinbeck declined considerably.

In 1966, Steinbeck traveled to Tel Aviv to visit the site of Mount Hope, a farm community established in Israel by his grandfather, whose brother, Friedrich Grosssteinbeck, was murdered by Arab marauders in 1858, roughly one hundred and ten years following the Steinbeck forefather's death in Israel, and on December 20, 1968 - would pass John Steinbeck,of congestive heart failure - he'd been a lifetime cigarette smoker, and a literary master of the English language that was throughout his life a champion of the poor, and of human dignity in a world controlled by super wealthy oligarchs and their demonic spiritual masters.

John Steinbeck

Ernest Hemingway - The Great Man - Posing For Himself In A Mirror

Steinbeck And Ernest Hemingway

One of the most respected of John Steinbeck's novels, The Grapes Of Wrath, had been published in 1939, and had given him a lot of respect and monetary success. John was a few years younger than was Ernest Hemingway, and they had shared some very real mutual admiration. John admired Hemingway's short stories. and Papa Hemingway thought the war reporting of John Steinbeck was brilliant. The truth of all this seems to be that Hemingway saw Steinbeck as a threat, and as great a man as Hemingway was, and as talented a writer as he will forever be remembered as, Ernest Hemingway had massive issues with his own masculinity, and felt some bizarre need to always show dominance over everyone.

They met for dinner with some friends. They drank, and Ernest Hemingway, of course, got drunk - and the evening ended very badly with Ernest Hemingway breaking someone else's cane over his head, and throwing the pieces at the owner. John Steinbeck was not impressed, and John Steinbeck was not the sort of man to have issues with his masculinity - Steinbeck had no need to show that he was a man, and as the story goes - came very close to losing his temper, and damaging the Hemingway face, and ego with'd wanted to smash his face, but his wife prevented it.

Said John Steinbeck of Ernest Hemingway,

"in many ways . . . the finest writer of our time,"

And In East Of Eden, Steinbeck Said:

"In my time, Ernest Hemingway wrote a certain kind of story better and more effectively than it had ever been done before. He was properly accepted and acclaimed. He was imitated almost slavishly by every young writer, including me, not only in America but in the world. He wrote a special kind of story out of a special kind of mind and about special moods and situations. When his method was accepted, no other method was admired. The method or style not only conditioned the stories but the thinking of his generation. Superb as his method is, there are many things which cannot be said using it. The result of his acceptance was that writers did not write about those things which could not be said in the Hemingway manner, and gradually they did not think them either."

Sadly, Ernest Hemingway never said anything positive about John Steinbeck in public at all. Though this is all very sad - we are each who we are, and some of our traits make some of us very great at some things, and some of our traits that give us the greatness that we have, leave us in the eyes of others with different greatness - incomprehensible, or even "weak." It is the strength of love that is superior to the ego, and so it is said that love conquers a multitude of sins. Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck both were great authors, and to each their own. I'm calling this score Steinbeck 1 Hemingway nada.

The Novels Of John Steinbeck Available On

The Literature Of John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck published twenty-seven books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and five collections of short stories; Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Often the work of John Steinbeck was centred around Mexicans and Mexican American immigrants to the USA - the poorest of the poor, with the exception of, possibly, African Americans. He also wrote a series of California Novels, and those pertained to Dust Bowl era Great Depression Americans of European poor decent. Always he would extrapolate upon the plight of the poor, and he'd sometimes include scenarios and ending so shocking that one would be left (edit: "one" - referring to yours truly) wondering at just how he became so accustomed to tragedy so explicit.

I'd recommend to any reader from any nation of any age and at any time such classics as In Dubious Battle, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.- his two best known works, but also, The Pearl. For The Grapes Of Wrath he'd win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and create a true American literary iconoclast of a character, Tom Joad. His Nobel Prize for literature was awarded for:

"realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception."

Always humble, when asked if he deserved the Nobel Prize, John Steinbeck replied,

"Frankly, no."

Then in his acceptance speech he'd express,

"....the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature."

John Steinbeck, flawed human being that he was - never failed to recognize that probably, his true greatness came from his fine upbringing in the Episcopal church, and the devout parents that had put him into the position in those Salinas, California crop fields to see, absorb, and witness humanity for what it was - a tragic Petri dish where we all have the choice to be a greed and pride filled ego monster, or to be someone great, someone kind, someone who loved his neighbour as he tried to love himself, like John Steinbeck. Rest In Peace - you tremendous and talented man.

"Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope. So that today, St. John the apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the Word, and the Word is Man—and the Word is with Men." - John Steinbeck.

John Steinbeck - The Memorial Plaque For An Outstanding Human Being

Music Inspired By The Characters Of John Steinbeck's Novels


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    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Jeff Gamble - Thanks very much! I was pleased with the film "Of Mice And Men," that one was worth seeing.

    • Jeff Gamble profile image

      Jeff Gamble 

      8 years ago from Denton, Texas

      Absolutely fabulous article. I first read Steinbeck as a freshman in high school, his writing grips you and pulls you in to the scene like no other. Voted up up up

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      iamaudraleigh - thanks!!! I hope that he'll always be taught in schools - ESSENTIAL reading!!!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      We read Of Mice and Men and The Pearl years back..Steinbeck was certainly talented.

      Voted up for a great bio written by you!

    • profile image

      Patricia Shaw 

      8 years ago

      Great writing about a great writer--Congratulations on this fine work!!!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Uninvited Writer - THANKS!

      You probably should - at least that is how I do anything...urges! I just follow them :)

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 

      8 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Great hub on one of my favorite writers...

      I have an urge to re-read East of Eden

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      ThoughtSandwiches - THANKS! I need to read that one myself, and I also need to edit more about Hoover into this hub....Hoover made SURE that Steinbeck got audited by the IRS every single year....and he did that PURELY to harass him...because he knew that he couldn't find a single thing to charge him with...

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image


      8 years ago from Reno, Nevada


      I read "The Pearl" due to the prodding of a 6th grade English teacher but little else until about two years ago when I decided to have a "Summer of Steinbeck" when I read about everything I could get my hands was a good summer.

      Although each was my favorite as I was reading it, I would say "In Dubious Battle" was my favorite. I can understand why a crazy-assed paranoid freak like Hoover would be worried about him.


      PS...Voting UP and sharing.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Healthy Pursuits - thanks very much!!!!

      I'm getting so many nods towards "Cannery Row" that I guess I'm going to have to buy it.

      Well said about John and Ernest - I think I agree.

    • Healthy Pursuits profile image

      Karla Iverson 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      I enjoyed this very much. Good work! I love John Steinbeck, as both a writer and what stories are told about him as a person. (I love Hemingway, too, but as a writer, only.) My favorites of Steinbeck's are Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. I don't remember how many times over the years I've gone back to read one or the other.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Paul Kuehn - Thanks very much!!!!!!!!!!!

      I need to read more of Steinbeck myself - on Facebook I was highly recommended to read Cannary Row - and I think I will.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      You have written a brilliant account about John Steinbeck, his writings, and relationship with Hemingway. I have already read the "Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Men and Mice", but I look forward to reading more of Steinbeck after reading your awesome review. Voted up, awesome, and sharing.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      collegatariat Thanks very much!!!!!!!!!!

      I do not know if that is true or not - but I do not doubt it either - Steinbeck was probably seen as a communist for a dozen or more reasons, and probably he even was one, as I'd imagine that he'd felt that communism was ...beneficial to the poorest of us.

      Actually - nix all of that, the link that follows shows that his books WERE banned at some point or another:

    • collegatariat profile image


      8 years ago

      Great Hub! It's always fascinating to find out more about the man (or woman) behind the stories told, and you did an excellent job of filling me in on Steinbeck's background.

      I read once that many of Steinbeck's novels were on a banned list at one point-- do you know if it's true or not? I believe the reason was profanity and socialism, but I might be wrong.

      Thanks for taking the time to share this with us!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thank You, Tammy!

      I feel about the same way about it. Hemingway just had a really artistic technique - but Steinbeck's work was more morally focused.

      Confession: I only learned about the rivalry today, and by chance...I just had a sudden notion to Google the names together...and so I found out about their one meeting, etc.

    • tammyswallow profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      This is an awesome hub. I majored in English and did not realize there was such a rivalry between Steinbeck and Hemingway. While I think Steinbeck wrote things of a stronger social importance, I think Hemingway was a master writer. Nothing can touch the Snows of Kilimangaro. I really enjoyed this hub. Well done!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      whowas - YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY DO YOUR OWN STEINBECK HUB ANYWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Hey, if you link to this one - I'll gladly put your link (and will anyway - as good as your stuff has shown to be) - into the body of this one!


      I thought the same thing about the *cough* "relationship" between Hemingway and Steinbeck - I damn near hero worship the both of them when it comes to writing...

      I'd also recommend "The Pearl" to anyone,and anywhere - of any age from ...High School (or younger depending....) on up to elderly - it is just great fiction, and with timeless moral circumstance within.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wesman, this hub is EPIC!

      I've read 'Of Mice and Men' and 'The Grapes of Wrath' but never 'The Pearl'. Seems like I should. The biographical information was great to read and the relationship with Hemingway fascinating.

      Thank you - and now I have to say that you beat me to it, just this afternoon I was thinking 'hmmm, maybe I'll do one on Steinbeck' and I didn't and you did. And I'm glad you did because you've done a great job!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks very much, ReallyPrettyHouseWife!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I think "The Pearl" is profound - it makes no sense to a real capitalist, materialist, or Ayn Rand sort of fake philosopher, but to the rest of us - the wise of the world, it makes PERFECT sense.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 

      8 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Wesman - I absolutely LOVE Steinbeck. The first book I read was also "The Pearl" and I bought it recently for my kids. It was a terrific story that really had an impact on me. I should read it again.

      I loved The Grapes of Wrath too - this is a super awesome excellent hub!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks Chris!!!!!

      I have some weirdo thing to where I hit "publish," and then when the first comment shows up...I panic, and find all the grammar errors and sentences that weren't so comprehensible!

      I think I've most of it fixed now :/

      If I were to recommend something to you or to anyone - I would recommend "The Grapes Of Wrath," it is, I think, one of the single best American novels ever.

      Hemingway might have been an American author - but his novels often took place in Europe..or Cuba - and so the entire plots of those novels aren't about this place, not that any of that matters so much, but Steinbeck's work is more American as the plots fall here - but that doesn't matter either in regards to the quality of the work, of course.

      "Of Mice And Men" id also a tremendously good novel, and the film for it isn't bad at all either.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      8 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      I remember reading "The Pearl" almost a lifetime ago. I thought it was a brilliant book. I don't know if I have read any more of his writings. I think that I should.

      Thanks Wesman for whetting my appetite.


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