John Ernst Steinbeck was born on February 27, in 1902 in Salinas, California, He came from a reasonably well off family. He worked his way through college at Stanford University, but never graduated, so in 1925 he set off to New York where he tried to start his career as a writer, but he failed to have any of his writing published and returned to California. He then published a few books and short stories. His first novel, Cup of Gold was published in 1929, but attracted little attention.
The readers also poorly acknowledged his following two novels, The Pastures of Heaven and To a God Unknown. Steinbeck then married his first wife, Carol Henning in 1930. But he still wasn’t recognised in the world of literature until 1935 when Tortilla Flat was published. It received the California Commonwealth Club’s Gold Medal for best novel by a California author, and then his work became recognised far and wide. Steinbeck then went onto produce some of his greatest novels, including Grapes of Wrath, which was a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1939.
The greatest prize Steinbeck was awarded for his writing was the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1962. John Steinbeck died on December 20th, 1968, in New York.
The first book I read by John Steinbeck was ‘Of Mice and Men’ and it is about two men who are immigrant American labourers. Together they have a dream to settle down and farm their own land rather than work for other people. So they join a group of farmers to earn the money, so that they can buy the farmland for themselves.
These two friends are completely unlike each other. One of them, who is called George, is a small intelligent man, and the other, Lennie, is a big, clumsy, caring, but child-like man. The two men have been friends since they were children. But Lennie was not always stupid, but became like this after an accident that happened when he was young. George is always with Lennie for comfort, friendship, but mainly as he is very strong and can work on a farm better than most people. George supports him, helps him and puts thoughts into his head, to try to him motivated. Lennie trusts George with everything and really values their friendship. When the two friends finally get the money to make their dreams come true George takes advantage of Lennie and kills him, so that his dream is secured.
In this book you are made to feel sorry for Lennie, as he was very caring, and even when he killed the animals, and boss’s sons wife, you know that he was only being friendly and caring, and just wasn’t aware of his own strength. At the beginning of the book George seems to be Lennie’s friend, but by the end you realize that he is only using Lennie to fulfil his own dreams.
The second book by Steinbeck I read was ‘East of Eden’. This book was set in the period between the American Civil War and the end of World War I. It is about the conflicts of two generations of brothers. The opening chapters describe Samuel and his family, and what living in Salinas Valley is like for them. The first generation is the kind, gentle, caring Adam Trask and his wild brother Charles. Adam eventually marries Cathy Ames who is a wicked, manipulative, but very beautiful prostitute. Cathy betrays Adam, with his brother Charles on the very night of their wedding. Later, after giving birth to twin boys, she shoots Adam and then leaves him to return to her former job.
With the help of their Chinese servant Lee, Adam raises their sons, the fair-haired, charming, yet stubborn Aron, and the mysterious, clever Caleb, without telling them about their mother. The second generation of brothers compete for their father’s approval. In resentment Caleb reveals the truth about their mother to Aron, so he then leaves to join the army. At the end of the story, Lee makes a great effort to help keep the Trask family together, when Adam is lying in his bed dying, Caleb is overwhelmed with guilt because Aron has been killed in the army. Lee believes that if Adam gives Caleb his blessing for indirectly killing his own brother, he will able to move on in life, and not always feel so guilty.
In this novel, although he is not a main character, Lee, their servant is a good friend to Adam, and helped him at his worst times, and managed to hold the family together, so the story wouldn’t have turned out the same without him.
The third book I read by John Steinbeck was ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. The book is set in California and it follows the terrible misfortunes of the Joad family, who like many others have given up their lives in Oklahoma in search of employment in California. The book follows both their hopes and setbacks creating a true account of the American dream of the 1930’s, as we observe their struggle to try to get by with what little money and possessions they have.
When the Joad family leave the Hooverville, which is an independent migrant camp and move to a government camp, because they cannot find a job at Hooverville. This camp is clean and has a local government made up of migrant workers. For the first time since arriving in California, the Joads find themselves treated as human beings. However, when the work runs out they had to move on. Tom ends up killing a man who is responsible for the death of is good friend John Casey. They have to flee and find work picking cotton, and Tom’s presence there is soon spotted, and Tom has to go into hiding.
The ending of this book, even though not dreadfully clear, does suggest a little hope for the Joads, but more so hope for humanity. I enjoyed this book because
I saw a lot of things that all of these books have in common, and the most obvious thing was that each book was about underprivileged people who were fighting to keep their lives and families together through many misfortunes. In Steinbeck’s books there is always an inferior character that keeps the people together, for example in The Grapes of Wrath Ma Joad tries as hard as she can to keep her family together, but apart from that you don’t know much about her. And also in East of Eden the servant, Lee, holds the family together, and helped to bring up Adam’s children.
The struggle between good and evil is the most dominant theme in these books. John Steinbeck shows that everyone has the potential to be a good person, or completely immoral. An example of this theme is in East of Eden, as Adam is a very kind and caring person, but Cathy is nasty and pitiless. Also in Of Mice and Men, Lennie is a gentle loving man, whereas his friend George turns out to be a horrible, ruthless person.
Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath have a connection between the type of work the people do because they are both about people trying to make ends meet working on farms, trying to fulfill their own dreams. Love is another issue that all these books have in common, because whenever love is missing from a specific part of the story, the results become disastrous.
The three of Steinbeck’s books that I read all have a very detailed and descriptive writing style, which adds to your satisfaction of his books, as you are given persuasive glimpse into the lives of others. The characters in Steinbeck’s books seem to come to life because of the vast understanding of human courage to be able to choose between what is right and wrong Steinbeck has. I enjoyed reading all of these books, because even though in some ways they were very similar, they all had a different storyline, so I didn’t find the second and third story boring after reading the first one.