John Steinbeck: A Common Man\'s Man


"I never wrote two books alike", once said John Steinbeck (Shaw, 10). That
may be true, but I think that he wrote many of his novels and short stories
based on many of the same views. He often focused on social problems, like the “
haves” verses the "have nots", and made the reader want to encourage the
underdog. Steinbeck\'s back ground and concern for the common man made him one of
the best writers for human rights.
John Steinbeck was born in Salians, California and spent most of his life
there or around Salians, because of that he often modeled his stories and the
characters around the land he loved and the experiences he encountered. He
lived in Salians until 1919, when he left for Stanford University, he only
enrolled in the courses that pleased him - literature, creative writing and
majoring in Marine Biology. He left in 1925, without a degree. Even though he
didn\'t graduate his books showed the results of his five years spent there. His
books display a considerable reading of the Greek and Roman historians, and the
medieval and Renaissance fabalists and the biological sciences (Shaw 11). He
then moved to New York and tried his hand as a construction worker and as a
reporter for the American. (Covici , xxxv). Steinbeck then moved back to
California and lived with his wife at Pacific Grove. In 1934, he wrote for the
San Franciso News, he was assigned to write several articles about the 3,000
migrants flooded in at Kings County. The plight of the migrant workers motivated
him to help and document their struggle. The money he earned from the newspaper
allowed him to travel to their home and see why their reason for leaving and
traveled to California with them, sharing in with their hardships (Steinbeck,
127). Because John Steinbeck was able to travel with the Okies, he was able to
accurately portray them and their struggles.
Each book that he wrote had settings in the places where he has either
lived or wanted to live. He presented the land as it was. The characters in his
stories experienced floods, drought, and other natural disasters, while in the
Salians Valley (Shaw, 5).
What Steinbeck wrote was very factual and in depth. He exhibited his
awareness of man and his surroundings, in his early books, before people ate, a
pig had to be slaughtered, and often that and before they ate, it had to be
cooked. Also when a car broke down, the characters had to find parts, and fixed
it themselves (Shaw, 13).
Many people consider that John Steinbeck novels are records of social
history. His books are the history of plain people and society as a whole, many
of his books focused on the Great Depression, Social Prejudice, religion, the
whore house, and the automobile (Rundell, 4). He may be considered as a
Sentimentalist, because of his concerns for the common man, human values, for
warmth and love and understanding. The social relevance of his writhings reveals
him as a reformer (Covici, xxii). In his novel The Pastures of Heaven, Steinbeck
brings up the issues of Japanese Americans fitting into social groups, and in
East of Eden, he examines the problems of intelligent and educated Chinese-
Americans in the California setting. John Steinbeck only once seriously
considers the problems of Negroes in Society. Crooks, the stable boy in Of Mice
and Men, was an outcast and never destine to fit into the generally white
society of ranching.
Not only did Steinbeck recognize the -problems of minorities and racial
prejudice, he also mentioned class prejudice. The difference between the “haves”
verses the \'have nots” was brought up in the novel, The Grapes of Wrath,
usually the people who had any financial stability hated the Okies, who had none.
Owners hated the Okies because they were soft and the Okies were strong, also
the store keepers hated them because the Okies had no money to spend in their
stores (Bowden, 12).
The Grapes of Wrath presents these issues in the form of an epic and sums
up the despair of the early 1930\'s. The Joads experience: love, brotherhood,
integrity, class fear, power, violence, and suspension, the same as every other
migrant. Their conflict was a national epic, instead of a personal one ( George
et al. 1013). The parable of the tortoise crossing the road represents the
people of the 1930\'s, he is beaten by the sun, knocked around, and struggles,
but probably reaches his destination. In his other stories, he also uses
characters and symbols