The Winter of Our Discontent

The Winter of Our Discontent


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The final novel of one of America’s most beloved writers—a tale of degeneration, corruption, and spiritual crisis

A Penguin Classic

In awarding John Steinbeck the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Nobel committee stated that with The Winter of Our Discontent, he had “resumed his position as an independent expounder of the truth, with an unbiased instinct for what is genuinely American.” Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of Steinbeck’s last novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With Ethan no longer a member of Long Island’s aristocratic class, his wife is restless, and his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards. Set in Steinbeck’s contemporary 1960 America, the novel explores the tenuous line between private and public honesty, and today ranks alongside his most acclaimed works of penetrating insight into the American condition. This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction and notes by leading Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143039488
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/26/2008
Series: Penguin Classics Series
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 59,295
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).
After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.
Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942).Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright(1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.
The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961),Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata!(1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures. 

Susan Shillinglaw is a professor of English San Jose State University. She is the author of On Reading the Grapes of Wrathand Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage.

Date of Birth:

February 27, 1902

Date of Death:

December 20, 1968

Place of Birth:

Salinas, California

Place of Death:

New York, New York


Attended Stanford University intermittently between 1919 and 1925

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Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page



























Explanatory Notes





JOHN STEINBECK (1902-68) was born in Salinas, California, in 1902 and grew up in a fertile agricultural valley about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast—and both valley and coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without a degree. During the next five years, he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City and then as a caretaker for a Lake Tahoe estate, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929). After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California fictions, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. The powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon Is Down (1942). Cannery Row (1945); The Wayward Bus (1947); The Pearl (1947); A Russian Journal (1948); another experimental drama, Burning Bright (1950); and The Log from the “Sea of Cortez” (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history. The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The “East of Eden” Letters (1969), Viva Zapata! (1975), TheActs of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of “The Grapes of Wrath” (1989). He died in 1968, having won a Nobel Prize in 1962.

PENGUIN BOOKS Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Copyright renewed Elaine Steinbeck, Thom Steinbeck, and John Steinbeck IV, 1989
eISBN : 978-0-143-03948-8

1. Grocery trade—Employees—Fiction. 2. Conduct of life—Fiction. 3. Domestic fiction. I. Shillinglaw,

The Winter of Our Discontent is John Steinbeck’s last novel, the book that occasioned his 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature. On the eve of the ceremony, the New York Times published an editorial by Arthur Mizener questioning the wisdom of the Swedish Academy’s decision: “Does a Moral Vision of the Thirties Deserve a Nobel Prize?” The article seared Steinbeck’s soul, no doubt, and placed once again before his American readers the enigma of his reputation. How to define this most American of writers, the engaged artist of 1930s California? And how to describe this last novel, certainly not a howl of social protest in the vein of his 1939 classic, The Grapes of Wrath, but neither the twilight reflections of an aging writer. For many readers The Winter of Our Discontent is a dark morality tale about the fall of a blue-blooded American hero, Ethan Allen Hawley, who succumbs to the temptations of wealth, power, and prestige. But this final novel defies categories. If it’s a parable of corruption and redemption, as Steinbeck suggests in his epigraph, it’s also a lesson in Darwinian survival. The novel insists on a symbolic and highly ironic framework—the first half takes place on Easter weekend in April 1960 and the second on the Fourth of July weekend that same year. Yet the book is also realistic, set in Steinbeck’s own Sag Harbor, New York—New Baytown in the novel—and influenced by the moral quagmires of contemporary America. And while the work tips its hat to Steinbeck’s love of the Arthurian saga, with Ethan a latter-day Lancelot, it’s also true that Ethan’s voice seems almost postmodern, speaking a language that is highly wrought, artificial, self-reflective. The Winterof Our Discontent is, seemingly, a patchwork of intentions, all meant to shake a reader’s complacency.

Since its publication in April 1961, this “curious” novel has baffled many readers. Carlos Baker’s review for the New York Times sounds a characteristic note of dissatisfaction:

Indeed, the text’s evasive strategies and perplexing characters suggest Steinbeck’s profound unease with Cold War America, where his real fear for his country centered not on Sputnik and Russian armament but on “a creeping, all-pervading, nerve-gas of immorality which starts in the nursery and does not stop before it reaches the highest offices, both corporate and governmental.” Steinbeck sent that observation to his close friend, politician Adlai Stevenson, in November 1959, and the letter was subsequently published in Newsday, sparking a national discussion: The question “Are We Morally Flabby?” was debated by four educators and writers in a February 1960 issue of the New Republic, and the next month Newsday published “Steinbeck Replies.” Steinbeck’s answer was a resounding yes, and more than anything else The Winter of Our Discontent explores the contours of that affirmative response. From 1960, when he composed this novel, to the end of his life eight years later, Steinbeck stood as America’s moral compass, pointing to Americans’ virtues and lapses in three unflinching books: The Winter of Our Discontent, Travels with Charley (1962), and America and Americans (1966).

The freedom to critique one’s country, he felt with increasing urgency, was the role of the artist in a free nation. Trips to the Soviet Union in 1937, 1947, and 1963 as well as charges made by Communist writers that he had moved politically to the right crystallized his independent stance—Steinbeck’s Cold War was a “Duel Without Pistols” (a 1952 article he wrote in Italy after being attacked in a Communist newspaper for not objecting to the “degeneracy and brutality of American soldiers” in Korea). While American citizens and artists could voice opinions freely, he wrote, Communist artists were constrained by orthodoxy. Speak as an American critic he would, to the end of his days. That defiant patriotism informs The Winter of Our Discontent. In effect, Ethan Allen Hawley, his central character, asserts his own freedom to speak out and, in the process, replaces a hollow self with a more authentic self, however morally imperiled. What makes it such a quirky and important book is that it suggests, through Ethan’s voice, the simmering discontent of its time, the cacophony and dislocation of Cold War America, overtly a superpower, internally super powerless.


“A novel may be said to be the man who writes it.”
Steinbeck’s discontent, however, was artistic and cultural, not personal. The year 1950 was a watershed; he moved permanently from California, his birthplace, to New York City in December 1949, and a year later he married his third wife, Elaine Scott. This marriage gave him far more stability than the first two—certainty of love shared with a self-confident woman. Once an assistant stage manager on Broadway (for Oklahoma! when it opened), Elaine stepped into her new marriage with style, energy, wit, and steady love. For their eighteen years of marriage, she kept much of the world at bay. Some qualities of Steinbeck’s happy marriage to Elaine make their way into The Winter of Our Discontent—certainly the solidity of the union (this is, in fact, the only Steinbeck book that opens with a bedroom scene). Ethan’s rather cloying nicknames for Mary are close to Steinbeck’s own for his beloved Elaine, who was “moglie” when they traveled and “Lily Maid” at home. Most important, the steady light that Mary casts for Ethan is Elaine’s for John: “No one in the world can rise to a party or a plateau of celebration like my Mary,” Ethan muses. “With Mary in the doorway of a party everyone feels more attractive and clever than he was, and so he actually becomes.” The marriage of Ethan and Mary is Steinbeck’s most fully drawn portrait of marriage and home life—at least in part an index of his own contentment.

With an equal sense of renewal, this displaced Californian embraced his and Elaine’s new home, New York City, and made it his own: “As far as homes go,” he wrote in a 1953 essay, “Autobiography: Making of a New Yorker,” “there is only a small California town and New York. . . . All of everything is concentrated here, population, theater, art, writing, publishing, importing, business, murder, mugging, luxury, poverty. It is all of everything. It goes all night. It is tireless and its air is charged with energy. I can work longer and harder without weariness in New York than anyplace else.” There is a kind of steely determination expressed in that essay about his new terrain. Steinbeck needed and staked personal stability. His stance as an East Coaster was solidified further when he and Elaine purchased a small house in Sag Harbor in the spring of 1955: “We have a little shack on the sea out on the tip of Long Island at Sag Harbor,” he wrote to his old friend Carlton Sheffield. “It’s a whaling town or was and we have a small boat and lots of oak trees and the phone never rings. We run there whenever we need a rest—no neighbors, and fish and clams and crabs and mussels right at the door step.” Sag Harbor was Steinbeck’s haven and the setting for New Baytown, the village where Ethan lives in one of the old whalers’ houses that, in fact, line Sag Harbor’s Main Street and beyond. Schiavoni’s Grocery, the model for Ethan’s store, has been in that family since the 1950s and still operates in Sag Harbor’s tiny downtown.

But personal and territorial contentment was stirred first by the restlessness that was always his (and Elaine’s, who would pack a suitcase willingly) and second by artistic indirection. Ethan as store clerk, nibbled by small defeats, is, in some respects, Steinbeck as compromised writer once he left his native soil of California. In a 1955 interview with Art Buchwald, Steinbeck admitted that he was “tired of my own technique. . . . I’ve been highly discontented with my own work for some time. In East of Eden I used all my tricks and used them consciously and with finality.” It would not be his only admission of artistic frustration in the 1950s. By the end of the decade, he felt he’d written only “bits and pieces” for fifteen years and during that time had “brought the writing outside.” It was a harsh self-assessment for a decade that included East of Eden; the marvelous essay about his best friend, marine biologist Edward Flanders Ricketts, “About Ed Ricketts” (1951); as well as the frothy bits of fun Sweet Thursday (1954) and The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957). But it is also true that his writing of the 1950s was characterized, for the most part, by a deep split in sensibility: He wavered imaginatively between his own journalistic urge to tap into the present—writing a number of articles about contemporary culture, political conventions, and European travel—and his deep emotional ties to California that took him back to his Salinas birthplace and Monterey’s Cannery Row, where he’d spent most of the 1930s. Ethan’s internal dance between past and present is a dark form of Steinbeck’s own.

Like Ethan’s, Steinbeck’s past was a siren call, voices not easily silenced. Shortly after moving to New York City with Elaine, Steinbeck wrote his epitaph for Ricketts, who was killed in 1948. He then considered and abandoned the idea of turning Cannery Row (1945) into a play: “I have finished that whole phase. . . . I’m not going to go over old things any more.” That was written by a man who was about to start East of Eden, a man who would contemplate and begin writing in Paris in 1954 a short-story cycle about Salinas, and a man who would, that same year, turn Cannery Row into Sweet Thursday, a book whose characters seethe with discontent. And having finally laid to rest the Cannery Row material and Ed Ricketts’s ghost with the 1955 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream, he turned the next year to King Arthur, hero of a beloved childhood saga.

But in fact those Arthurian tales shadowed all his work of the late 1940s and 1950s. Again and again in his search for order and meaning in a postwar world, he was drawn to figures who embodied the gallantry that was Arthur’s, heroic individuals like Sam Hamilton in East of Eden—characters who took a moral stand, born out of justified anger, and found creative solutions: Emiliano Zapata, central figure in the film script he wrote for Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata! (1952); or Don Quixote, a book he reread and in 1958 recast in an abandoned manuscript, a western, called “Don Keehan,” written with Henry Fonda in mind. In 1947 he wrote a play-novelette about Joan of Arc, “The Last Joan.” He began one about Columbus. He considered writing one about Jesus. “Wyatt Earp, King Arthur, Apollo, Quetzalcoatl, St. George all seem to me to be the same figure,” he wrote in a 1958 letter, “ready to give aid without intelligence to people distressed when the skeins of their existence get bollixed up.” For Steinbeck, gallantry countered Cold War complacency, graft, and mind-numbing materialism. “The western world and its so called culture have invented very few things,” he wrote in 1953. “But there is one thing that we invented and for which there is no counterpart in the east and that is gallantry. . . . It means that a person, all alone, will take on odds that by their very natures are insurmountable, will attack enemies which are unbeatable. And the crazy thing is that we win often enough to make it a workable thing. And also this same gallantry gives a dignity to the individual that nothing else ever has. . . .” The questions facing Steinbeck—and Ethan—are whether gallantry is an outmoded virtue in America, 1960, or whether entering the fray, as Ethan does, might well be a quixotic kind of gallantry.

Ethan’s anguished status in the contemporary world is thus in part Steinbeck’s own. Both are deeply committed to blood-lines, to the meaning of place, home, old friendships—and to probity as an ancestral inheritance. But looking back doesn’t suffice, for a writer, for Ethan Allen Hawley—or for New Baytown itself, a place “whose whole living force had been in square-rigged ships and whales.” And the old Hawley whaling ship, suggestively, has sunk to the bottom of the sea. Memories do not nourish creative action.

One aspect of Ethan’s nostalgia in particular lends poignancy to The Winter of Our Discontent: his betrayal of his childhood friend Danny, now a drunkard. In offering a thousand dollars to “help” Danny dry out at a sanatorium, Ethan also betrays him by giving money that might cure but might also allow Danny to drink himself to death. Giving money to friends had been one way that Steinbeck tried to connect with those whose lives seemed less bountiful than his own—and his efforts to nurture Monterey Herald journalist and would-be novelist Ritchie Lovejoy (to whom he gave his 1940 Pulitzer Prize money from The Grapes of Wrath so that Lovejoy could complete his own novel, which he never finished), to help his Stanford University roommate Carlton Sheffield earn a Ph.D. (which he never earned), and to support Ricketts’s marine-biology supply business (which was always precarious) had not ended particularly well. Lovejoy resented Steinbeck’s gesture, Sheffield and he were estranged for years, and Ricketts simply bowed out in death. The love and guilt associated with these close friends was part of Steinbeck’s psyche—that and a suspicion that somehow they had retained in poverty an integrity he’d sacrificed with success. “You drift toward peace and contemplation,” he wrote Sheffield, “and I drift toward restlessness and violence.” And Danny tells Ethan that he is “better off” than Ethan, a mere clerk. Possibly Steinbeck’s discomfort over removing Ricketts’s name from the 1951 publication of The Log from the “Sea of Cortez” (published as Sea of Cortez in 1941) found its way into Ethan’s guilty treatment of Danny. But even if that reading seems a stretch, it’s certainly true that the Steinbeck-Ricketts friendship is echoed in the brotherly bond between Danny and Ethan and in the question that Ethan articulates: Is he his brother’s keeper? Danny knows Ethan to the core; Danny is shrewd and lonely; Danny haunts Ethan’s dreams—and in one dream Danny and Ethan embrace with a kiss of betrayal. All of these can be traced back to Steinbeck and Ricketts’s deep and complex friendship.

Looking to his California past increasingly chafed Steinbeck the writer, however. The first of at least three identifiable “shocks” that propelled him toward writing Winter came by way of a French journalist’s query in 1953: “Isn’t it true that American writers are abandoning the present for the past?” The question came as “a shock of recognition,” Steinbeck admitted. “It has occurred to me that we may be so confused about the present that we avoid it because it is not clear to us,” he wrote to his agent, Elizabeth Otis, while on vacation in Paris. “But why should that be a deterrent? If this is a time of confusion, then that should be the subject of a good writer if he is to set down his time. For instance, the effect on young people of the McCarthy hearing is going to be with them all their lives. The responses to this spectacle, whatever they are, are going to be one of the keys to our future attitudes toward everything. If such things are not written as fiction, a whole pattern of presentday thinking and feeling will be lost.” Although he would not “try” for another six years, the problem of how to confront American issues in fiction niggled at him. A few months later, now in Italy, he told an Italian reporter that “the novel in America is on a plateau. Outside of the neurotic crowd, none of us are digging into or writing about our present life or trying to look into the future. Instead, we are seeking refuge elsewhere than America or going into the past. I don’t know exactly why this is. It might be laziness, since it’s easier to go to historical sources for your material. It might be terror or fear of some to call the shots as they see them. And it might be a listlessness before a big event . . . a revolution of the human mind against collective pressure.” His immediate solution, he declared, was to write about what was most exciting in the postwar world: outer space. That project never saw fruition.

In the late 1950s, not outer but inner space engaged his full attention, one last siren call from his past—this the most compelling—Arthurian gallantry. He had cherished a copy of The Boy’s King Arthur since he was nine. Arthur was Steinbeck’s Rosebud: “The Bible and Shakespeare and Pilgrim’s Progress belonged to everyone. But this was mine,” he wrote in an introduction to the manuscript (published posthumously). “It was a cut version of the Caxton Morte d’Arthur of Thomas Malory. I loved the old spelling of the words—and the words no longer used. Perhaps a passionate love for the English language opened to me from this one book.” In 1956 the embroidered language and “remembered music” of this “magic book” brought him back to his childhood passion and the lovely and fertile Salinas Valley, where he grew up; to the shale cliffs that soar above the Valley’s Corral de Tierra—Arthur’s keep in the eyes of a dreamy lad; to archaic words and the cadence of language; and to his admiration and love for his little sister, Mary, once his very own squire. Before he translated a word of text, he wrote the dedication to Mary, lines that bring both brother and sister back home: “from this hour she shall be called Sir Marie Steinbeck of Salinas Valley—God give her worship without peril John Steinbeck of Monterey Knight.”

In many ways Sir John Steinbeck’s three-year immersion in the Arthurian matter, from late 1956 to 1959, was his way to remain tucked away from the present, something he admitted. But in fact the project insistently drew him to his own times. As his understanding of Malory’s world increased, so did his awareness that the Middle Ages were not so very different from contemporary angst: “My subject gets huger and more difficult all the time,” he wrote to Malory scholar Eugene Vinaver in 1959, when he was living in Somerset trying to complete his manuscript called “The Acts of King Arthur.” “It isn’t fairy stories. It has to do with morals. Arthur must awaken not by any means only to repel the enemy from without, but particularly the enemy inside. Immorality is what is destroying us, public immorality. The failure of man toward men, the selfishness that puts making a buck more important than the common weal.” The letter itself moves seamlessly from his struggle to understand the Middle Ages to his present dismay, the nagging sense that he, like Malory, lives in a world where the center will not hold: “we are as unconsciously savage and as realistically self-seeking as the people of the Middle Ages.” Perhaps one reason he could not finish the Malory project, which he reluctantly shelved in late 1959, was that he could not hold back the tidal wave of his own time.

Certainly he could not after his return to America in October 1959, following an eight-month sojourn in Arthur’s territory of Somerset, England. Two additional “shocks” awaited him and turned him from Malory’s dilemmas to America’s in 1960. One was psychic and physical—his failure to complete the Malory translation. He had to face the fact that he was “not good enough nor wise enough to do this work.” Being able to write only scattered “acts” nearly brought on his own morte. In November 1959 he landed in a New York City hospital with, he said, the porthole open to the other side. But the gravely ill writer was not quite ready to “break his brushes.” The “shock therapy” of illness made him, he said, “take back command.” That meant, for this writer, to launch other “experiments,” as he called each book throughout his long career. In the first few months of 1960, he would write The Winter of Our Discontent; plan his trip around America with Charley, “Operation America”; and drive his camper truck out of Sag Harbor in September to take the pulse of his country.

Indeed, America itself, the country’s plight and its potential, was the final shock that centered Steinbeck. In Somerset, wrestling each day with his writing, tramping over land that Arthur’s foot may have trodden, Steinbeck lived imaginatively and physically in another era. Discove Cottage had walls two feet thick and had “sheltered 60 generations,” Steinbeck wrote his editor, Pascal Covici. In his garden he found shards of ancient pottery. He plucked dandelion greens to cook. He wrote with a quill pen. “I feel that I belong here,” he told Covici. His deep contentment in a rural simplicity was doused by the icy bath of America, October 1959. Like a latter-day Crevecoeur, seeing America for the first time, Steinbeck took the measure of his country upon his return: “For a long time I had not been reading any papers, even English newspapers,” he wrote in March 1960, well into writing Winter. “And then suddenly, every morning, the front pages of the American papers with the breakfast coffee. The front pages and much of the insides were reports of rigging, cheating meat inspectors, fuel oil cheats, payola, charges of false advertising, false representation, drug company jet-propelled markups, government and state contract thefts, and this against what used to be called crimes—rape, mugging, murder, burglary, delinquency. It was staggering after the lapse of time.”

In the background of Winter are those headlines and more— the drawn-out proceedings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), for example, that he felt had deeply tainted the country. In a 1957 essay, “The Trial of Arthur Miller,” he takes Congress to task for ignoring a man’s private morality. A few years earlier, in 1952, he had stood by filmmaker Elia Kazan when he named names before HUAC; even though Steinbeck despised the committee’s actions, he defended Kazan’s “courage” in acting according to his conscience. As the critic Clifford Lewis notes, Ethan as “betrayer and informer” may owe something to Kazan’s clouded stance.

In addition, the quiz-show scandal that wound to its grim conclusion in November 1959 haunts the pages of Winter, as scholars Robert and Katherine Morsberger have convincingly shown. For fourteen weeks in late 1956 and 1957, literate and well-connected Charles Van Doren dazzled America with his brilliance on the quiz show Twenty-One, one of the most popular programs of the late 1950s. Van Doren “kept on winning,” notes Eric Goldman in The Crucial Decade—and After: America, 1945-1960, “downing corporation lawyers or ex-college presidents with equal ease on questions ranging from naming the four islands of the Balearic Islands to explaining the process of photosynthesis to naming the three baseball players who each amassed more than 3,500 hits.” But Van Doren had been coached, fed answers—a charge he denied for months under growing pressure in 1959. On November 2, 1959, however, the “new All-American boy,” as magazines had crowed earlier, appeared before the Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight in the House of Representatives and confessed to cheating on the show and lying to cover up his deception. “I was winning more money than I had ever had or even dreamed of having,” he said under oath. “I was able to convince myself that I could make up for it after it was over.” His response anticipates Ethan’s own duplicity: “my objective was limited,” declares Ethan, “and, once achieved, I could take back my habit of conduct. I knew I could.”

For Steinbeck it was a shabby little episode that reflected “symptoms of a general immorality which pervades every level of our national life and perhaps the life of the whole world. It is very hard to raise boys to love and respect virtue and learning when the tools of success are chicanery, treachery, self-interest, laziness and cynicism or when charity is deductible, the courts venal, the highest public official placid, vain, slothful and illiterate.” It would seem, however, that Steinbeck’s outrage was not shared by a majority of fellow Americans. Although Van Doren was fired both from NBC and from his position as lecturer at Columbia University, others refused to denounce his actions. At the end of 1959, Look magazine surveyed Americans’ values, and the editor concluded that “a new American code of ethics seems to be evolving. Its terms are seldom stated in so many words, but it adds up to this: Whatever you do is all right if it’s legal or if you disapprove of the law. It’s all right if it doesn’t hurt anybody. And it’s all right if it’s part of accepted business practice.” This is a survey that Steinbeck may well have read.

Nor did politics in 1960 offer much solace. Steinbeck’s friend Adlai Stevenson was not running for president— although Steinbeck would start a petition urging him to do so. Instead the 1960 presidential campaign was taking shape between the relatively unknown and vigorous John F. Kennedy and the positively unscrupulous Richard Nixon, whom both Steinbeck and Stevenson agreed two years before was the “greatest danger to the Republic.” Midway through Winter, Steinbeck wrote to Stevenson that “I rather liked Nixon when he was a mug. You knew to protect yourself in a dark alley. It’s his respectability that scares the hell out of me.” With McCarthy, Van Doren, and Nixon in his mind as he wrote, it’s hardly surprising that New Baytown affluence is represented by a smug banker, Mr. Baker, whose superficiality, greed, and duplicity are foils to Ethan’s integrity at the beginning of the book. Mr. Baker epitomizes values of The Affluent Society, a 1958 book written by another of Steinbeck’s friends, economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Baker’s plan to line his own and friends’ pockets with the wealth brought by a New Baytown airport serves as a microcosm for many Americans’ heedless pursuit of affluence, to the exclusion of the needs of undernourished citizens like Danny Taylor—or like impoverished Ethan himself in the opening chapters. This text peels back layers of economic exploitation, historical and contemporary.

Triple shocks administered by ghosts of past, present, and future, then, brought Steinbeck to the book that would chart the “time of confusion” to the day—Winter is set in 1960, and the time sequence in the second part of the novel precisely reflects his own writing schedule in that summer. But if Steinbeck lunged into the present as he began his novel in early 1960, it is also true that The Winter of Our Discontent is deeply tinged by the mighty project that preceded it, the aborted Arthur. Certainly one way to consider The Winter of Our Discontent is as an ironic Malorian-Steinbeckian “act,” featuring a knight of Steinbeck’s own invention, the impeccably credentialed Ethan Allen Hawley. But this American Lancelot is lonely, unsuccessful, cornered—initially unprepared to tilt lances, for his own Knight Templar sword is packed away. Sir Ethan’s military career has concluded, his lady has been won, the grail of life’s possibilities evaporated. Ethan is now simply a clerk in a grocery store, a squire at best.

Detached, always the observer, ironic and self-contained, Ethan is a modern everyman. “The Alone Generation,” read a headline from the late 1950s, assessing postwar temperament. But for Steinbeck, humanity’s lot was always something other than gritty individuality. “I believe that man is a double thing,” he wrote in “Some Thoughts on Juvenile Delinquency,” a 1955 essay, “a group animal and at the same time an individual. And it occurs to me that he cannot successfully be the second until he has fulfilled the first.” Old Cap’n Hawley echoes that sentiment. The Winter of Our Discontent is Ethan’s quest to assert his individuality, however ruthlessly pursued, and then to find the double thing in himself, his deep connection to a group, family and community and friends—an Arthurian circle intact. By the end of his quest, the thread of connection is a frail one at best, but it is there. The talisman in his pocket sends him back to his daughter’s light.


“I don’t know any book save only the Bible and perhaps
This energetic borrowing from literary sources, all rubbing together, suggests on one hand cultural dislocation—verbal fragments thrown up like flotsam and jetsam on America’s sterile shores, a veritable wasteland. But there is cultural resonance in this richly allusive novel as well. Drawing repeatedly from Shakespeare and company, Ethan interlards his story with textual referents and thus traces parallels and reversals, paradoxes and adaptations. The title of the novel comes from the first speech in Shakespeare’s Richard III, where Richard, at this point Duke of Gloucester, growls that he will plot to darken any “glorious summer” that is possible “now” that the Wars of the Roses have concluded: Ethan is wily Richard, a puppeteer holding the threads of each character’s destiny. The book begins on Good Friday, and Ethan’s temptations are an ironic inversion of the story of the Passion. As John Ditsky has noted, Ethan is both Christ the redeemer and Judas the betrayer. He is also Cain, killer of brother Abel/Danny.

Indeed, Ethan’s tendency to self-consciously invoke biblical, heroic, patriotic, historic, or mythical referents suggests the complexity of his moral choices, layered as they are by references to other texts. Insistently Steinbeck connects Ethan’s tale to literary and cultural contexts, a copious connectivity not unlike his environmental consciousness of two decades earlier. The ecological holism of Sea of Cortez (“None of it is important or all of it is”) becomes the cultural holism of this last novel: The choices made by a grocery clerk in New Baytown, Long Island, matter within the textual pageant of human anguish—or else nothing matters.


Excerpted from "The Winter of Our Discontent"
by .
Copyright © 2008 John Steinbeck.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

The Winter of Our Discontent 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ethan Allen Hawley... Sometimes a character comes along that rings out in your head. He's so identifiable that you almost assume the character was modelled after your own soul. Never mind the fact that the character was created 10 years before you were born, he's you... or maybe you're him. These characters are so real that you forget that the author is the one narrating the story. The author is transparent. The narrator is your own heart, a characterization of yourself. His narration is raw and truthful. The prose may be nearly 50 years old, but it paints a portrait of American life that transcends all the days from this to that. That's Steinbeck's prose. Steinbeck's prose, but Ethan Hawley's words. Ethan is the lead character in Steinbeck's, 'The Winter of Our Discontent.' Ethan is Steinbeck's creation, Ethan is my character. I listen to his thoughts, to the ideas in his head and I recognize them as the thoughts I so often find myself working through. His struggles, his emotions and, indeed, his proposed solutions are a facsimile of the very ones I carry with me. Every man must consider his fate. In your heart, you find your answers, however right or wrong. Ethan found my answers... not that I'm gonna start robbing banks or anything. But, sitting in the Place, out of the wind, seeing under the guardian lights, I find the answers that Ethan found so long before I knew I was looking. 'No nonsense of Madison Avenue then or trimming too many leaves from cauliflowers.' Here, a man can breathe.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this book, said it was one of his favorites, and I can see why. The questions this book raises, about what we will or will not do to better ourselves, and at what cost to others will long be remembered. The ending was not at all what I expected that it would be, and it's moral implications are relevent still today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is on my list of all time favorites. It moved a long, was very descriptive, and is a book that can be re-read to pick up some of the more subtle things that were missed. It was a deeply moving book, and makes us reflect upon our own lives, and what we will do for love, money and for those who share in our lives. A true classic!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A powerful novel, with a plot that most can relate to. Ethan Hawley, the main character struggles to provide for his family. Comes from a family of successful business men, until The Great Depression hits his family hard and he must start from the bottom, working as a produce market clerk. He feels that he must own up to his name that has been made by his predecessors. He is confronted by opportunities that question his integrity and common sense. What I like about this novel is that present day situations arise which grabs my attention and makes me think. Ethan, married with two children, thinks of his family first, because all he wants is to give them what he feels they deserve. He would sacrifice his own happiness to make his family happy. I also can relate to how he sometimes feels disappointed by how his life is panning out, but doesn¿t forget all the things he should be grateful for. I strongly recommend this novel to all who love to read. Whether you can relate to it or not, it will make you think, and help you appreciate some things that are taken for granted.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Steinbeck's novel is truly a great contribtution to American Literature. A must read! The themes and discussions of the novel are remarkable, offering truth and an accuarate depiction of life.
AshRyan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Winter of Our Discontent, Steinbeck's final novel, doesn't read much like early Steinbeck. But, contrary to many critics, that's not entirely a bad thing. A lot of early Steinbeck read like faux-Hemingway, and while the first couple chapters of The Winter of Our Discontent read like faux-Sinclair Lewis (at least he was imitating a better author by this point), after that he seems to find his own voice and later the stylistic similarities to his masterpiece East of Eden emerge...though by the end this is a rather unique novel, even among Steinbeck's own oeuvre.The Winter of Our Discontent follows Ethan Allen Hawley, a down-on-his-luck grocery store clerk who decides to put morality aside temporarily in order to gain wealth and power, after which he intends to resume his former incorruptible ways. But in the end he learns this is too high a price to pay and is nearly destroyed by it.Exceptionally well written (perhaps Steinbeck's best in that regard), and with fascinating, complex characters and an interesting story (if you stick with it, though it has its ups and downs), this is the kind of book that you feel like you need to read at least two or three times to fully get a handle on. But after my first reading, I'm provisionally rating it four stars and declaring it my second-favorite by Steinbeck, after only East of Eden. Skip The Grapes of Wrath and read this!
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just did not feel this one was on a par with Steinbeck's other works. It is actually pretty poorly written (especially the switching of tenses, the constant questions and assumptions about how other humans might think/feel; and the dialog is absolutely tedious and weird), which made it hard to read, or just not as enjoyable as Steinbeck usually is. I often had to re-read whole paragraphs. But the most difficult part of this novel was that it was basically comprised of a bunch of repugnant people doing repugnant things (with reflection and quasi-flashbacks on the characters' repugnant ancestors). I truly did not care how each succeeded or failed, although the novel attempts to show the moral degradation of America in the 60s on the ebb of developmental/commercial explosion through these people. I struggled mightily to finish this one and came close to stopping about half way. Ultimately, I did finish it. The plot is a bit interesting though, how it all unfolds, who is scheming who and who just morally gives up. The ending is kind of good, leaving the reader with her own view of what happens to Ethan. Readers seem very divided on whether this is Steinbeck's worst, or his best. I'm in the former category. I tried VERY hard to like it (on recommendation of a friend), but I just did not.
avidmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Winter of Our Discontent by Steinbeck is a story about a man in a moral quandary. Ethan is from a wealthy family that has long been established in his native New England community. Unfortunately, Ethan¿s father lost the family fortune and now Ethan finds himself working as a clerk in the very grocery store his family used to own. Ethan¿s immediate family, his wife and teenage son and daughter, are anxiously waiting for Ethan to regain the wealth and status that they see part of his rightful inheritance. Ethan seems to be content as a clerk; however, he wants to make his wife and kids happy and here begins his mission to reestablish his family name, fortune, and standing in the community.And here¿s Ethan¿s problem. He can see ways to reestablish his wealth and status, but it would require doing things that while not illegal per se, one could certainly argue that they are unethical if not downright immoral. The characters surrounding him are no saints either so Ethan starts ¿looking out for number one¿ as he is advised to do.It¿s no coincidence that the story starts on Good Friday. Ethan makes a choice here to crucify his moral self and, after he accomplishes his goal to get back on top, to resurrect his old moral self. The question is how far will Ethan go to regain his wealth and status in the community? Is anything or anyone off limits? What consequences will Ethan¿s actions have for the people around him? Will his temporary suspension of his usual code of conduct affect his kids? How? More importantly, how will Ethan¿s actions affect him? How severe will those effects be? After operating in the darkness, can Ethan come back into the light?This offering from Steinbeck is not the most entertaining novel I have read of his so far (for that see Cannery Row or The Wayward Bus). The story is a little slow at the beginning but Steinbeck¿s excellent writing keeps the reader engaged. What I liked most about this particular novel was Steinbeck¿s alternate use of the third person and first person narrative. We get to see the self Ethan presents to the world and Ethan¿s true inner self. We get a firsthand account of the internal struggles he goes through as he plans and plots his comeback. Because of this, we get a three-dimensional view of Ethan that makes him incredibly human and likeable despite his actions. The Winter of Our Discontent is not a book you simply read and then place back on the bookshelf. It¿s a book that makes you think .
Crazymamie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After finishing this book, I needed to take a couple of days just to let it settle and to think about what I wanted to say about it. I really liked the ending, and I was slightly surprised to reach it because this book was a rough start for me. The book is divided into two parts, and the second part is much more readable. In both parts, Steinbeck begins the narration in third person and then switches to first person, which is an interesting choice - he gives us an outside voice that sets the stage and then switches to an inside voice where our viewpoint is limited to that of Ethan Allen Hawley, the main character. At first the story is jarring and runs at an uneven pace - it is hard to get a feel for where the story is going or why. It is hard to decipher Ethan's intentions and motives even though the voice is his own. The character descriptions are vintage Steinbeck:"Joey looked like a horse and he smiled like a horse, raising a long upper lip to show big square teeth. Joseph Patrick Morphy, Joey-boy--"the Morph"--a real popular guy for one only a few years at Baytown. A joker who got off his gags veily-eyed like a poker player, but he whinnied at other people's jokes, whether or not he heard them. A wise guy, the Morph, had the inside dope on everything-and everything from Mafia to Mountbatten-but he gave it out with a rising inflection, almost like a question. That took the smart-aleck tone out of it, made his listener a party to it so that he could repeat it as his own....The Morph knew everybody intimately and never used a first name."Where the story started to fall into place for me was in the middle of chapter five. Here the annoying banter between Ethan and his wife, Mary, begins to take a back seat to the plot, and the pacing of the story starts to pick up. So, if you are one of those readers who apply the Pearl Rule, you would miss out on a good book because all of this occurs at about page 70, which is almost half way through part one. Ethan is facing a moral dilemma - he comes from a family that once had wealth and prestige in the community, but his father lost the family fortune and so Ethan finds himself working as a clerk in a grocery store instead of owning the store. His family is pressuring him to be more successful and to make more money. Ethan sees no way to honestly improve their fortunes, but he has always been an honest and upright man. He starts manipulating ideas that other people and circumstances place before him, and a plan forms in his head. All the while, Ethan ponders whether or not corruption can be placed aside when you are done with it. Can you simply be corrupt in the moment, and then return to the person you were before you gave into greed or malice?"¿The structure of my change was feeling, pressures from without, Mary¿s wish, Allen¿s desires, Ellen¿s anger, Mr. Baker¿s help. Only at the last when the move is mounted and prepared does thought place a roof on the building and bring in words to explain and to justify. Suppose my humble and interminable clerkship was not virtue at all but a moral laziness? For any success, boldness is required. Perhaps I was simply timid, fearful of consequences-in a word, lazy....Suppose for a limited time I abolished all the rules, not just some of them.Once the objective was reached, could they not be all reassumed?....Have any of the great fortunes we admire been put together without ruthlessness? I can't think of any. And if I should put the rules aside for a time, I knew I would wear scars but would they be worse than the scars of failure I was wearing? To be alive at all is to have scars. All this wondering was the weather vane on top of the building of unrest and of discontent. It could be done because it had been done. But if I opened that door, could I ever get it closed again? I did not know"This book was the last of Steinbeck's work to be published before his death, and although, in my opinion, it does not reach the depth of his writing in Of Mice a
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When we meet our protagonist Ethan Allen Hawley, he's content with his job as a grocery clerk, even though he is the descendant of a powerful family that once owned most of the town thanks to a fortune earned in the shipping industry. But the fortune is long gone, lost by Ethan's father, and Ethan himself has lost the ownership of his grocery store and now works there for an Italian immigrant. Though he often reflects on this state of affairs, he's not embittered by them, though his wife and children aren't quite as willing to accept their fate. They'd all like to have more things, and feel ashamed of lacking the distinction once bestowed on their ancestors, so Ethan starts thinking up plans to help him regain his standing and wealth. These plans conflict with Ethan's morals, but he wants to please his family and is willing to do whatever it takes, as long as he doesn't have to commit murder to reach his goals; but the rest is fair game. I didn't know what to make of the first part which served to establish Ethan's personality and position in life and the society of his ancestral hometown. Ethan seemed difficult to understand and his motives were not at all clear, probably reflecting his own state of mind. In the second part, we move into action and one event quickly succeeds another, offering plenty of surprises and drama, but never letting the reader rest from questioning the deeper implications of each event. Steinbeck may have won the Nobel Prize on the strength of this novel, which he wrote to as a commentary on the moral decline of postwar America, but it left me bemused and quite convinced that my appreciation for him as a great writer is based on other novels than this one.
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was John Steinbeck¿s last novel and the one that won him a Nobel Prize for Literature. Most people acknowledge that this was not his best work (in my mind not up to the standards of East of Eden or Of Mice and Men), but as with the Academy Awards, sometimes an Oscar for lifetime achievement is merited.The story is set in an old whaling village on the tip of Long Island (think Sag Harbor), where we find Ethan Allen Hawley, descended from an illustrious local family and recently suffering from financial reverses so severe that he has taken the menial job of grocery clerk. Day after day, Hawley is bombarded by reminders of his families prosperous past and the relative poverty in which he finds himself, most annoyingly by his wife, son and daughter.Throughout the novel, Hawley plays the naïve, unambitious simpleton, while at the same time engineering his return to prosperity and riches through a series of cold blooded, calculating and ruthless maneuvers. Relatively entertaining and worthwhile, it nevertheless fails to measure up to some of Steinbeck¿s better work.
theeccentriclady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to this book because of the economic difficulties our world is experiencing at this time. I found the basis of this novel timley. The subjects of success, integrity, money, motives and family are all addressed and something I think we are revisiting and reevaluating today. I am starting to read the classics late in life but finding I am enjoying them.
Jennifyr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Winter of Our Discontent proves to be a difficult novel to review. The main character changes drastically throughout the book, and at times I wasn't sure whether I loved him or hated him. Steinbeck throws in little snippets of humor here and there and I actually let out a few laughs at some of the dialogue. Steinbeck is a relatively new author to me (I read Mice & Men in high school and picked up East Of Eden just recently, almost, ugh, six years later!) but I have fallen quite in love with his work. I wouldn't recommend this for a first time Steinbeck reader though, but definitely recommended reading for any lover of his work. After reading this novel I went out and promptly bought The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, and can't wait to start reading through them all one by one. I can see though why this book might not be a favorite of some. It's difficult to watch a man sell his morals for money and struggle to come to terms with his own failure. For anyone who has ever been impoverished, or even just misanthropic at times, I'm sure they can relate to parts of this book a bit too much. So, I suppose that the bottom line for this difficult review is this, for lovers of Steinbeck, you will continue to love, but for newcomers, wait to read this book until you have more of a feel or understanding for his work. And skip the introduction until AFTER you read it, because it gives a lot away.
edwinbcn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The winter of our discontent is the novel which won John Steinbeck the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was also his last novel.Many readers consider The winter of our discontent a flawed or weak novel, particularly part one, seems to contribute little to the story. It is the author's provenance to express clearly in words what is difficult for others to describe. An adage remembered by many authors is that showing is better than telling. So, within the space of just under 300 pages, The winter of our discontent is a short novel, John Steinbeck shows us how a man starts doubting himself.What are morals? Are they simply words? (p.186) Ethan Allen Hawley asks himself. Aren't people thinking anymore? Thinking about their actions, their motives, and whether what they do is moral or immoral, honourable or dishonourable. Ethan concludes that it all depends on whether they succeed or not. What a man thinks does not show in his face, and as long as they succeed, they can get away with anything. To most of the world success is never bad. (...) Strength and success¿they are above morality, above criticism.(p.187).At the beginning of the book,the Hawley family is a happy family. Chapter One starts with one of the lightest, happiest dialogues in literature. Ethan is content with his station is life. But his family members are not. Harking to a more glorious past, when Ethan's ancestors were rich, they want to improve their situation, and have a share in the riches of the world. All around Ethan, people are busying themselves making money or fame, in ways which are morally objectionable to Ethan. But as he is constantly battered by others, suggesting how to do such things and get away with it, Ethan starts contemplating and making steps to get on in life. He considers taking kick-backs, he plans and prepares to rob a bank, he betrays his boss and gets entangled into a business deal, where obstruction rather than cooperation reaps him wealth.However, Ethan's new lifestyle shows in cracks. He is not as happy as before, and the lightness which characterized part one is gone. Doubt first arises, when his boss, Marullo, whom he has betrayed, bequeaths the grocery store to Ethan, honouring his boundless honesty, a thing Ethan would no longer believe of himself, the irony being that this all comes following his betrayal. However, what brings it all home to Ethan is his son's plagiarism in a National Essay Competition. His son receives favourable mention, and is chosen to appear on television, which is eventually cancelled as it is discovered, belatedly, that the essay is largely plagiarized.Published in 1961, The winter of our discontent describes a process that Steinbeck saw happening in American society; a transition from the ethos of hard-working and honest citizens in the 1940s-1950s, to the greed and money-driven erosion or morals of the 1960s and subsequent era. The fact that so many readers dislike or fail to understand this book, shows how far we have drifted.
katiekrug on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I struggled a bit with this book, especially in Part I, but grew to really like it despite some serious flaws. Steinbeck¿s message, which is non-too-subtle, about moral compromise and selfishness and the means justifying the end, resonates as much today as it apparently did when this book was published in the early 1960s. Ethan Hawley struggles throughout the book between his perception of himself and the realities of his life. He is deeply flawed, yet I felt a great depth of sympathy for him. While Steinbeck occasionally bludgeons his reader over the head with his message, his characteristic clean and lovely prose is quite evident, and the novel is worth reading for the last page and a half alone. It is quite different from much of his other work and, I think, requires a lot more of the reader. In the end, though, I felt the effort was more than rewarded.
Cailin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first read this book in high school and I doubt I got everything out of it that I did this time. Ethan Hawley starts out as one of the last of the "good" guys. He is slowly worn away by the loss of integrity that surrounds him. A great book!
rosies on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
still not sure about the end.
siew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was barely midway into the first two pages, when I became immersed in Steinbeck¿s use of dialogue. Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist, and his wife Mary, stood out in vivid relief almost from the onset. You become invested in characters that are more than just one-dimensional representations, and no less with Ethan, whose much-admired honesty and business ethics have for so long assured his near-penury, but also garnered the goodwill, friendship and respect of every other person in his town. His witty tongue, bordering on the sardonic, is his weapon of defense, and also at times shields his deepest thoughts from the reader, even during the points of the novel where he takes up the narrative directly. His family life and fortunes are in a dilemma, as fate throws opportunity and temptation his way. I found reading about how he deals with it all most fascinating, and I was emotionally invested in his success or failure.What was also very striking from the first chapter on, is Steinbeck¿s ability to read the soul. I felt he could have been writing about my life, and I was Ethan Hawley, and whatever choices he made, impacted directly on my own loss or redemption. It is a very rare specimen of writer that could accomplish such a cross-generation, cross-cultural and cross-gender shift in spiritual comprehension.Further, even though the themes are ages old - of right and wrong, loyalty and betrayal - Steinbeck¿s writing gives such ideas a fresh perspective, and greater meaning at the mundane level. I believe Steinbeck consummated his mastery of such a style with this book, the last he¿d written prior to achieving the Nobel Prize.For all its excellences, however, I do have to note that the jump between third person narration, and the first person of Ethan, and the digression from Ethan to the dangerously voluptuous Margie Young-Hunt, is a bit disjointed at times. I do not see the necessity of the switch in styles and narratives; I¿m a firm believer in using and manipulating the format to further the plot, however in this case, not much furtherment (my own word) was reached as a result.Harsh words aside, I see this book as a crowning achievement for an exceptional writer.
andyray on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First Steinbeck that I've read in a long, long time, and a good one to start with as he takes on the persona of a "regular guy" caught between his family, his business, and his dissatisfactions.
BeaverMeyer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is probably Steinbeck's greatest work. I think the reason it isn't more recognized is because of it's bleak, pessimistic nature. It's the writing of someone who's sick of phony American values, but it rings true. The writing here is fabulous. The emotional value surpasses many of his more widely-reviewed books.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautiful little book - a chapter in a man's life set down for all to see. Steinbeck made an art out of taking a small life and looking at it under a microscope - "East of Eden" being a superb example. But he did more than that - he would take an occasional look up from said microscope and breathe in everything around him, just as he does here.
JBreedlove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story is of the moral downfall of a modern man. I read Jurassic Park after I read this book. Steinbeck didn't need cloned dinosaurs to create this masterpiece. Just clean writing.
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