John Steinbeck

Eyridiki Sellou | Aug 14, 2022

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John Ernst Steinbeck (born February 27, 1902 in Salinas, died December 20, 1968 in New York) is an American writer and journalist, winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The only son of accountant John Ernst Steinbeck senior and teacher Olivia Hamilton.

He attended Stanford University from 1919 to 1925, but did not finish his studies with a degree. He took many odd jobs, including as a painter, carpenter's helper and physical laborer on a ranch. Being among the workers and his attachment to his native California shaped the distinctive subject matter, mood and tone of his works.

Only his fourth book, Tortilla Flat, published in 1935, brought him recognition and fame. This was followed by In Precarious Combat (1936) - a work telling the story of a strike by California apple pickers, Of Mice and Men (1937) and the short story collection The Long Valley (1938). But the biggest success of this period was the novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) - a bleak, moving story about the wandering of Oklahoma farmers looking for work during the Great Depression.

Steinbeck's later works no longer received such widespread acclaim. Following the decline in popularity, the writer broadened his thematic horizon, writing the war novel The Moon Has Gone Down (1942), the nautical The Sea of Cortez (1941), as well as diaries. Later still appeared the comic tale The Short Reign of Pepin IV (1957) and the New England story The Winter of Our Bitterness (1961). The return to old California themes in Streets of the Coast, was noted by critics as a downgrade of the author's work.

In 1962 Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, the event stimulated the voices of critics. Steinbeck's works were popular with the general public in America and England, while among the elite (academics, university lecturers and intellectuals) they did not receive a high rating. Critics stressed the sentimentality and the writer's very simple perception of social problems, as well as his lack of sophisticated language. These accusations are particularly pertinent to later works, shifting attention away from the acclaimed works of the earlier period. At a time when many Americans were turning away from their country as a source of inspiration, Steinbeck remained loyal to California, also sympathizing with the plight of the rural poor there. The writer also avoided the then-fashionable experimentation and cultivated a traditional narrative style. As a result, Steinbeck's works feature accurate and timely realism, timeless themes of human dignity and suffering. Considered one of the most outstanding American authors of social protest novels.


The writer's grandfather, Johann Adolf, whose original name was Großsteinbeck, came to America with his wife (one of Dixon's two sisters) from Elberfeld, a town 32 kilometers east of Düsseldorf. They initially settled in New Jersey, from where they moved to Florida, where John's father was born. The family moved again to Leominster, Massachusetts, and from there to Hollister, California, where they established a mill.

In 1890, John Ernst senior married seventeen-year-old Olivia Hamilton, one of nine children of Irishman Samuel Hamilton. The family resided in King City and Paso Robles before moving permanently to Salinas. The father of the family (like his father) ran a mill, but later became Monterey County's chief accountant.


John Ernst Jr. was born on February 27, 1902. Having three sisters, he grew up surrounded by women. He spent his childhood in Salinas, from where he occasionally escaped to San Francisco, Pacific Grove, Carmel and a ranch near King City. So he knew Monterey County and the Salinas Valley well. The young Steinbeck was sensitive to every feature of the landscape around him, to the east the sun-filled and tender Gabilan Mountains, and to the west the rugged, dark and dangerous Santa Lucia Mountains.

He attended the local school, graduating in 1919. He was always a good student, eager to learn. He was interested in music and books, with a special fondness for Sir Thomas Malory, Andersen, Stevenson and Lewis Carroll. He was also interested in science and sports, and went to church regularly.

In 1919 he entered Stanford University, which he periodically attended until 1925, but did not receive a degree. He took classes in classical literature, of which Plato made the greatest impression on him, and in zoology - a subject to which Steinbeck devoted most of his time. By 1925 he was deeply familiar with American and European literature. He read Milton, Browning, Thackeray, G. Eliot, Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Jeffers, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, as well as authors who later lost out in his eyes, including Sherwood Anderson, Norman Douglas and James Branch Cabell.

When Steinbeck was not engaged in his studies, he took on a variety of jobs on ranches or in a sugar factory, and became acquainted with people from the lower classes, whose respect and friendship he easily earned.

The beginnings of a career

He also took writing classes at Stanford, when he began to create his own texts. He sent them to various magazines, which unfortunately rejected them. His first story, Fingers in the Clouds, heralded as a talented artist, was published in the Stanford Observer.

In the fall of 1925, Steinbeck left for New York with three dollars in his pocket in hopes of earning his keep as a writer there. His brother-in-law, E.G. Ainsworth got him a job building Madison Square Garden. Later, thanks to his uncle Joe Hamilton, he moved to New York's American magazine, where he worked as a reporter. However, he wasn't very good at it, so, before long, he was fired. Discouraged, he returned to California.

He spent the next three years doing odd jobs and constantly moving from San Francisco, through Monterey and Lake Tahoe. During that time he also wrote a lot of texts, which, unfortunately, no one wanted to buy from him. Until in 1929, McBride accepted and published The Golden Spell, a fictional biography of the pirate Henry Morgan, which Steinbeck wrote while at Lake Tahoe. This was followed by the publication of Pastures of Heaven in 1932 and The Unknown God in 1933. None of these works, however, opened Steinbeck's career path.

In 1934 he sold five short stories to the North American Review, including the first two parts of Chestnut. These works did not gain huge fame, nevertheless, the short story Murder won a prize named after O. Henry Award.

In 1935, Steinbeck published Tortilla Flat, a humorous tale of six hobos living in one house. The distinctly stylized rogue novel brought Steinbeck fame and money. Since then, his standing among prominent American writers has grown with each new publication.

Edward Ricketts

In 1930, at a friend's cottage in Carmel, Steinbeck met Edward Ricketts (1887-1948), owner of a small biological laboratory in Monterey. Steinbeck himself tells this story in the "Ed Ricketts" chapter of Diary from the Sea of Cortez as if they were to meet in the waiting room at the dentist's. A long-standing friendship grew out of this acquaintance, thanks in part to their shared interest in music. They spent a lot of time talking and drinking (both were devotees of beer, wine, whiskey and other alcoholic beverages), Ricketts even infected Steinbeck with a love of biology; biological aspects of human life often permeated the writer's works. Edward became the protagonist of several of Steinbeck's novels, including In the Uncertain Struggle, Waterfront Street and Miracle Thursday.

Poland visit and Kennedy's death

During his stay in Poland in the fall of 1963, news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy reached him on November 22. To him as a "great representative of American culture" condolences were offered by the team of the Warsaw weekly "Culture", whose editor at the time was Janusz Wilhelmi.

Vietnam War

In December 1966, John Steinbeck traveled to Vietnam as a war correspondent for Newsday. The daily Huffington Post published a letter Steinbeck sent to his friend Alice, describing the impressions the Vietnam War had made on him.

Steinbeck's decision to go to Vietnam as a war correspondent contributed to a lowering of the writer's authority in circles of the liberal American intelligentsia. The reports sent from Vietnam, dozens in number and published in the American press, were read as enthusiastic support for the Vietnam War, and the war in general as such.


He died in New York on December 20, 1968 from heart failure. An autopsy revealed almost complete atrophy of the main coronary arteries due to long-term cigarette smoking.

In accordance with Steinbeck's wishes, his body was cremated and the urn containing his ashes was placed in the family grave at Garden of Memories Memorial Park in Salinas.


A personal sign used by Steinbeck as a symbol of himself, "grounded but ambitious." It depicts a pig with wings, and contains the Latin motto Ad astra per alas porci, which translates as: To the stars on the wings of a pig.

Probably not coincidentally, Steinbeck used just such a mark to designate his work. Pigasus appeared in the Land of Oz books by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Her pygasus was also a winged pig. However, Pegasus as a winged magical horse whose riders gained the gift of writing poetry certainly did not escape Steinbeck's eye. Pegasus first appeared in "Pirates of Oz."

John Steinbeck used to draw his mark on some books during author's evenings. These copies are definitely more valuable than those that contain only the author's autograph.

In 1928 Steinbeck worked as a janitor at a fish hatchery in Tahoe City, where he met his first wife, Carol Henning, whom he married in January 1930. The couple moved into a cottage in Pacific Grove that Carol's father bought for them. They also received $25 a month from him to live on, which was sometimes the couple's only income. After the success of Tortilla Flat, the Steinbeck family moved to a house near Los Gatos, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1936, they traveled to Mexico, the first of Steinbeck's many trips. He was also in France, Italy, Greece, Russia, England and Northern Ireland, among other places. Steinbeck's frequent absences from home led to his divorce from Carol in 1942.

In 1943 Steinbeck married Gwendolyn Conger (Verdon), the mother of his only children, Tom and John. Shortly after their marriage, he went to the World War II war front as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. Upon his return later that year, he and his wife moved to New York. And this time Steinbeck's constant travels became the cause of his divorce from Gwendolyn in 1948.

His third and last wife became Elaine Scott in December 1950. In Travels with Charley, written 10 years later, Steinbeck describes his marriage as successful and happy.

On May 6, 1940, John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for his novel The Grapes of Wrath, and in 1962 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his "realistic and poetic gift, combined with subtle humor and a sharp view of social issues" (Jean Anouilh, Karen Blixen, Lawrence Durrell and Robert Graves were still considered in the final five in 1962). According to one of the members of the of the jury, Anders Osterling, Steinbeck is always sympathetic to the underdog, the oppressed and the suffering. He is a writer who contrasts the simple joys of life with the cruel and cynical lust for money. In his speech he pointed out the debt that every writer owes to society, he must not only show people their mistakes, but also reflect the greatness of their spirit. On the official website of the Award you can find the full text of Steinbeck's speech delivered at the ceremony.

In the United States, however, it was considered that Steinbeck was rewarded too early. Such an opinion undermined his authority and the author's influence began to wane. In September 1964, Steinbeck was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In addition to the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize, he received many other honors and awards. In 1936 he was awarded a gold medal from the Commonwealth Club of California for Tortilla Flat, and a year later another for In an Uncertain Struggle. In 1938 the New York Drama Critics' Circle awarded him a prize for Of Mice and Men, and in 1948 he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

East of Eden

The novel, considered one of Steinbeck's finest works, tells the tragic fate of the Trask family, which settled in the Salinas Valley at the turn of the 20th century. Adam Trask, a farmer, single-handedly raises two sons - Aaron and Kaleb. The boys are as different as fire and water, and the only thing they have in common is a constant competition for the love of their strict father. Aaron is calm and obedient, Kaleb is a born rebel who harbors a clear dislike for his brother and wants to find his mother at all costs. The tense situation between the brothers is exacerbated by their love for the same woman - Abra. Eventually Kaleb finds his mother, the demonic Kathy, in a brothel and discovers that she is the complete opposite of what his beloved father embodies. The internal rift, the need to make a choice and the excesses of tension lead to tragedy....

East of Eden is one of the most popular novels of the 20th century. While in terms of plot it is a realistic saga of a family of California ranchers, its second, deeper bottom can be read as a reinterpretation of the biblical story of Cain and Abel and a parable about the struggle between good and evil in man.

Mice and people

A beautiful novel about unconditional friendship, human longings and dreams. George Milton and Lennie Small are an unusual tandem of friends. George is a strong man, and Lennie, who follows in his footsteps, is a mentally handicapped giant. Clumsy and unaware of his own physical strength, he is unable to conform to social norms and every now and then brings upon himself and George greater or lesser misfortunes. Unable to find a place for themselves, the friends roam the States plunged into the Great Depression in search of income and acceptance. Their dream and the goal they pursue is their own farm where they could raise rabbits.

Of Mice and Men is one of Steinbeck's finest literary works. It is a novel so complex that it eludes all clear-cut interpretations. First of all, it is a beautiful story of wonderful friendship and sacrifice, a tale of complicated relationships, human longings and dreams. It is also a parable of human fate, a kind of modern fairy tale for adults.

Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath is Steinbeck's most outstanding novel, published in 1939 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. It is a saga, painted with panache, of the poor Joad family from Oklahoma traveling during the Great Depression to California - as they believe - a land flowing with milk and honey. During the grueling journey, they are struck by a series of misfortunes: the death of their grandparents; son Tom, avenging the death of a friend murdered by a crackpot, kills a man and flees; son-in-law Connie leaves the clan; Rosasharn gives birth to a stillborn infant. At the end of the road, additional disappointment awaits them: unemployment, poorly paid jobs, strikes and repression, this is not the California they imagined so much.

The work most fully highlights the characteristics of Steinbeck's work: a longing for simplicity, a love of the land, a protest against urbanization. With his novel, the author wanted to expose the degeneration of capitalism, he took the side of the humiliated and exploited community.

The following is an index of all the author's works with the date of the American edition and details of the Polish edition. Where possible, the price and page count of the first edition (US) are given.

John Steinbeck, as a prominent American writer of the 20th century, has lived to see recognition among Polish writers, hence the translation of his works has been undertaken by more than a dozen translators. The most recognized is Bronislaw Zielinski.

Steinbeck's works show his continuing interest in both the biological and mythological heritage of man. Biology and myths are influential factors in his work, providing the basis for his works of the 1930s. In them, one can see how the concepts of an ecological society, a group organism, that Steinbeck picked up from his Stanford University biology classes take on increasing importance, from The Golden Spell, where they are barely noticeable, to The Grapes of Wrath, where they reach their peak. Myth, on the other hand, is a more continuous factor, completely influencing the form and content of all his works since 1929. In most of them, one can see myth as a palimpsest on which Steinbeck has written a realistic story about modern man.

As Teresa Kieniewicz notes in her monograph on the reception of American literature in Poland in the interwar period, Steinbeck - like other writers of his generation, such as William Faulkner - remained unknown in Poland at the time. This situation changed only after World War II. The first - as it seems - mention of Steinbeck's work can be found in Aleksander Rogalski's article Contemporary American Novel, published in 1946. A year later, excerpts from Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath, considered to be the most outstanding - both then and today - were then published in the press.

At the same time, in the same year, the first monographic sketch on the prose of the author of Pastures of Heaven was published in the Marxist journal Odrodzenie, that is, a periodical published by the "communist regime." In it, Stanislaw Helsztyński, the author of the sketch, made a general characterization of Steinbeck's writing, stating that The Grapes of Wrath would become: "certainly an enduring position in American literature, just like Dreiser's American Tragedy, Sinclaire Lewis's Main Street or, from the earlier ones, Melville's Moby Dick." Helsztyński thus included the novel in the canon of works of American literature, containing works that convey a critical picture of relations in the United States during the period of early capitalism.

Leading Marxist literary critic Stefan Zolkiewski also commented on American prose, saying that the works of writers such as Caldwell, Steinbeck and Faulkner testify "to the richness and diversity, to the artistic discovery and uncompromisingness of these writers, to the alertness and accuracy of their social analysis."

Kazimierz Brandys, a member of the editorial board of the weekly Kuźnica, and author of The Wooden Horse, classified Steinbeck's prose as part of the so-called Literature of Violence (the Polish equivalent of this English term would be "cruel novel"). Later, in 1948, there was a change in the understanding of American literature. He wrote in Kuźnica in response to Caldwell's short stories "Kneel before the rising sun" that American literature cannot be trusted to doom man in advance. Alongside Brandys, Zbigniew Bienkowski spoke, pointing out 3 main features of American literature: anti-intellectualism, anti-psychologism and simplicity.

Czeslaw Milosz, who was in Washington at the time, spoke twice in the pages of the magazine Odrodzenie in 1947, formulating, among other things, the thesis that the American "novel of violence" is strongly related to the French naturalist novel: "The resemblance of the novel of violence to the French novel known as the naturalist novel - that is, to Zola or Maupassant - is very strong in general; with Steinbeck it is no longer a resemblance, but almost an identity."

In 1948 and 1949, the press brought numerous translations of Steinbeck's works, and the first translation of the novel Of Mice and Men appeared. Viktor Voroshilsky, a leading representative of the "pimple generation," wrote about the duality of Steinbeck's work, on the one hand a progressive writer, author of The Grapes of Wrath, and on the other a second-rate practitioner of pathological naturalism. He also added that he stands in the position of disbelief in the possibility of social revolution. As we can see, it is not true, as Steinbeck reported, that the Communists were hostile to his work, and certainly not between 1945 and 1948, when he was cited in socio-cultural publications as a leading American writer with progressive views.

The years 1950-55 brought significant changes to Steinbeck's works. At that time, writers with overtly pro-communist views were translated, among them Albert Maltz and Howard Fast; Steinbeck was completely silenced.

After three years of silence (1951-53), Steinbeck's name reappears in the Polish socio-cultural press in 1954 during the then ongoing discussions on translation policy during the Stalinist years. Lech Budrecki, like Jerzy Lisowski and Miroslaw Zulawski in demanding the publication of works by writers such as Faulkner, Steinbeck, Caldwell and Scott Fitzgerald, pointed to the "violent indictment of bourgeois society" contained in them.

In 1956, the first edition of The Grapes of Wrath was announced. The novel was received almost enthusiastically. A commentary by Jan Detka may serve as an example (it is astonishing to read this novel, the artistic and ideological richness of Steinbeck's work is drawn in all its fullness (...) Steinbeck remained faithful to fatalism, in The Grapes of Wrath it takes the shape of the ruthless force of social laws, crushing the will of people and their actions."

The American writer visited the USSR three times. The first time was in 1937; this first stay did not result in any literary testimony, although Steinbeck supposedly carried himself with the intention of writing something about the Soviet Union. The second time he was in the USSR was in 1948, and the literary testimony to this stay was A Russian Journal, published in the States that year (this was a tour of the USSR organized as part of a cultural exchange program designed to defuse the Cold War. So, referring to Bogdan Czeszka's review, Steinbeck may not have been one of the "staunch friends of the USSR," but neither was he an enemy of Soviet Russia.

Numerous statements about Steinbeck's work can be found in the Polish press after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. American critics received Steinbeck's Nobel honor rather reservedly. In Poland, on the other hand, reactions were much warmer, although in some sketches we find references to the artistic shortcomings of the prose of the author of The Grapes of Wrath. Zbigniew Bienkowski's opinion can be considered typical: "Steinbeck is neither a rebel nor a sorcerer, he is simply a great writer."

Steinbeck's death in late 1968 passed without much of an echo. The only more extensive text on the event came from the pen of one of the more disturbing figures of postwar literary life, the editor-in-chief of Kultura weekly, Janusz Wilhelmi. He wrote of Steinbeck as follows: "He has always so far raised his voice on behalf of the poor against the rich, on behalf of the weak against the strong. To these poor, defenseless and weak he did not only moral justice. He also encouraged them to fight, and predicted a victory that would not only redress wrongs, but also even the score against the wrong-doers (...)."

John Steinbeck's works have often been filmed. Here is a list of films based on the writer's texts:

National Steinbeck Center

The John Steinbeck Museum in Salinas presents the author's works, memorabilia from his childhood and throughout his life in a way that is accessible to all ages. Here, the letters themselves leap off the paper pages directly into the viewer's imagination, and interactive exhibits let you experience the smell of a freight car straight from East of Eden. The Rabobank Agriculture Museum showcases stories under the title "from field to fork" that celebrate the history, people and technology of an agricultural society.

The Steinbeck Center was established to honor the author as a great writer dedicated to his hometown, and wishes to showcase its beauty to all who visit. Below is a link to a video introducing the center in a few words.

Steinbeck House

John Steinbeck's Victorian-style family home was built in 1897, and the author's family moved in in 1900.

The Valley Guild Association was formed by 8 enthusiastic women sharing the same interest in cuisine. They wanted to showcase the products that the Salinas Valley offers. The association bought and renovated the house and opened it as a restaurant on February 27, 1974 (Steinbeck's 72nd birthday). The volunteer mission is to maintain and preserve the house and raise funds for Valley charities.

At the restaurant, you can have the wonderful experience of eating fresh produce sourced exclusively from the Salinas Valley itself.


  1. John Steinbeck
  2. John Steinbeck
  3. ^ "Swedish Academy reopens controversy surrounding Steinbeck's Nobel prize". The Guardian. January 3, 2013. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  4. ^ "Who, what, why: Why do children study Of Mice and Men?". BBC News. BBC. March 25, 2011. Archived from the original on January 7, 2015. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  5. ^ Bryer, R. Jackson (1989). Sixteen Modern American Authors, Volume 2. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. p. 620. ISBN 978-0-8223-1018-1.
  6. ^ Chilton, Martin. "The Grapes of Wrath: 10 surprising facts about John Steinbeck's novel". Telegraph (London). Archived from the original on December 13, 2014. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  7. Ian Ousby:An introduction to 50 American Novels. London & Sydney: Pan Books, 1979, ISBN 0-330-25701-3.
  8. Steinbeck John, [w:] Encyklopedia PWN [online] [dostęp 2019-08-15] .
  9. „The portable Steinbeck. Revised, selected and introduced by Pascal Covici Jr.”, Pascal Covici Jr., The Viking Press: Penguin Books, 1976, ISBN 0-14-015002-1.
  10. Esther (ur. 1892), Beth (ur. 1894) i Mary (ur. 1905) (według Jay Parini: John Steinbeck, lekceważony noblista. Warszawa: Twój Styl, 2005).
  11. Fontenrose Joseph, John Steinbeck, An Introduction and Interpretation, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Detroit 1963, s. 1–4.
  12. «Welcome to The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA». 5 de marzo de 2010. Archivado desde el original el 5 de marzo de 2010. Consultado el 14 de noviembre de 2017.
  13. Jackson J. Benson (1984). The true adventures of John Steinbeck, writer: a biography. Viking Press. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-670-16685-5. "Ricketts did not convert his friend to a religious point of view—Steinbeck remained an agnostic and, essentially, a materialist—but Ricketts's religious acceptance did tend to work on his friend,...".
  14. Introduction to John Steinbeck, The Long Valley, pp. 9–10, John Timmerman, Penguin Publishing, 1995.
  15. a b c d Jackson J. Benson, The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer New York: The Viking Press, 1984. ISBN 0-14-014417-X, pp. 147, 915a, 915b, 133.
  16. Centro Nacional Steinbeck, en la página Biografía de 2007
  17. Jay Parini: John Steinbeck. A Biography. New York 1995, S. 16–19.
  18. Jay Parini: John Steinbeck. A Biography. New York 1995, S. 13 f.
  19. Jay Parini: John Steinbeck. A Biography. New York 1995, S. 21 f.
  20. Jay Parini: John Steinbeck. A Biography. New York 1995, S. 34.
  21. Barbara Schneider: Krieg, Pogrom, Mord auf der Anklagebank. In: Nordbayerischer Kurier. 20. November 2015, S. 4, Artikelanfang.

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