John Steinbeck

  • Stoddard Martin


The Grapes of Wrath (1939) may not be Steinbeck’s best novel, but it is his grandest and most celebrated, and on it his reputation will rise and fall. The book presents the classic tale of the Depression in the Sun-belt. The animating myth is that of the Garden and man’s struggle to get back to it. The small farmers of Oklahoma and adjacent states have been dispossessed of their land by drought and the recalling of mortgages. The first is a cosmic antagonist: the wind and dust evoked so remarkably in the opening chapter, reminiscent of the disembodied antagonist of Eliot’s Waste Land and answered in the end, as in that poem, by rain; a rain which in this case is not benevolent but causative of another natural antagonist, flood. The second antagonist is the banks. The system they typify is the chief object of Steinbeck’s ire. No more than London is Steinbeck willing to rail for long at the cosmic order; but, where man has intruded on the ability of other men to make a living from the land, his wrath is like that of an Old Testament prophet. He vilifies the machines that plough under the barren old farms: ‘The tractors came over the roads and into the fields, great crawlers moving like insects, having the incredible strength of insects.’1


Classic Tale Male Bond Native Valley Male Chauvinism Interior Monologue 
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Notes to Chapter Three: John Steinbeck

  1. 3.
    See ibid.; also Warren French, John Steinbeck (New York: Twayne, 1961) ch. entitled ‘The Education of the Heart’.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Steinbeck’s most famous title, suggested by Ed Ricketts, comes from Robert Burns. See Thomas Kiernan, The Intricate Music: A Biography of John Steinbeck ( Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1979 ) p. 108.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Charles Doughtery, ‘The Christ Figure in The Grapes of Wrath’, College English Dec 1962; repr. in Casebook on ‘Grapes’ p. 117.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Thomas Dunn, ‘The Pauline Apostleship of Tom Joad’, College English Dec 1962, and ’The Grapes of Wrath’ ibid., Apr 1963; repr. in Casebook on Grapes’ pp. 118, 123.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    See Maxwell Geismar, ‘John Steinbeck: of Wrath or Joy’, Writers in Crisis: The American Novel (1925–40) ( Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1942 ) p. 265.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    Jackson, reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle and personal friend of Steinbeck’s, is quoted by Leo Gurko in The Angry Decade (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1947). Excerpts in Casebook on ‘Grapes’.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    In Harry T. Moore, The Novels ofJohn Steinbeck (New York: Kennikat, 1968) p. 61 (first published 1939).Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    Malcolm Cowley, ‘A Farewell to the 1930s’ in Think Back on Us ... A Contemporary Chronicle of the 1930s ed. Henry Dan Piper (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967); repr. in Casebook on ‘Grapes’.Google Scholar
  9. 23.
    John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle (London: Heinemann, 1936) pp. 1–9. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  10. 26.
    Joseph Fontenrose, John Steinbeck: An Introduction and Interpretation ( New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963 ) p. 49.Google Scholar
  11. 35.
    Quoted by Lewis Gannett in ‘John Steinbeck’s Way of Writing’, in Steinbeck and His Critics, ed. E. W. Tedlock and C. V. Wicker ( Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1957 ) pp. 32–3.Google Scholar
  12. 36.
    See Norman Valjean, John Steinbeck: The Errant Knight (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1975) p. 169. Also Kiernan, Intricate Music p. 211.Google Scholar
  13. 38.
    In the Junius Maltby episode in Pastures of Heaven (London: Philip Allan, 1933) pp. 112–49.Google Scholar
  14. 42.
    See Steinbeck’s introduction to The Short Novels of John Steinbeck (New York: Viking, 1947).Google Scholar
  15. 47.
    John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat (London: Heinemann, 1935) p. 53. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  16. 54.
    John Steinbeck, Cannery Row (London: Heinemann, 1945) p. 64. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  17. 66.
    Peter Lisca, The Wide World of John Steinbeck ( New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1958 ) p. 284.Google Scholar
  18. 71.
    James M. Cain, Three of a Kind (New York: Knopf, 1942) p. v.Google Scholar
  19. 72.
    John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday (New York: Viking, 1954) p. 36. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  20. 78.
    John Steinbeck, Cup of Gold (New York: Robert McBride, 1929) p. 148. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  21. 96.
    John Steinbeck, The Wayward Bus (New York: Viking, 1947) pp. 98–119. Further references in text.Google Scholar

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© Stoddard Martin 1983

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  • Stoddard Martin

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