Travels With Charley Steinbeck Essay

In a literal sense, he was a conservative, a man who valued and even clung to the old America; the real power of Grapes of Wrath is the savage anger at the impersonal process that uproots men from the land and rapes it, substituting rattletraps and highways for place and kindred.In that sense, he was romantic, sure that past times were far from perfect and yet possessed of virtues and qualities now lost, human even in their cruelties and stupidities as the industrial age is not….

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Steinbeck had frozen into a political position that in the 1930's enabled him to avoid fashionable error and made him the champion of common sense, but that in the 1960's isolated him from the problems of affluence.

(This judgment is grounded in the idea that in the 1930's the nation's problems were primarily those of underproduction and physical survival, but that in the 1960's—although there are still a sizable number of "disadvantaged" persons in the society—the problems were principally those of overproduction and spiritual disenchantment.) What is most significant is how closely the thinking of the man who, regardless of critical demurrers, was one of the most distinguished twentieth-century American writers mirrored that of Lyndon Johnson, whose once awe-inspiring reputation as a political operator crumbled because of his inability to communicate with most people under forty.

In these two cases the talisman is true to the dictionary definition of a stone, but in other novels the idea is expanded to include anything that men believe in or go to for some kind of nonrational fulfillment, anything that sparks a man to identify with it and project the mystery of his being upon it.

On a larger scale, the idea is manifest in the land in Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath; on a smaller scale, the talisman is the image of the virgin that Juan Chicoy communes with but does not accept as a Christian symbol in The Wayward Bus, Kino's pearl, Danny's house in Tortilla Flat, and a wide variety of other objects throughout Steinbeck's fiction.

Literary experts of high standing have either ignored Steinbeck or, in critical books and journals of limited circulation, have exposed his defects.

Edmund Wilson, Alfred Kazin, and Maxwell Geismar are three important critics, for example, who have detailed Steinbeck's imperfections….

In the 1960's his novels unintentionally alert us to the dangers that persistence in the stereotyped thinking derived from the privations endured during the Depression and World War II present in coping with the problems of an age of affluence in which economic momentum can be maintained only by a program of controlled waste that is not destructive of human resources.

Steinbeck had trouble during the last two decades—as The Winter of Our Discontent especially suggests—because he still saw human problems in the currently irrelevant terms of clashes between exploiter and victim, the ignoble and the noble.

So, for that matter, does violence, and Steinbeck knew that there is a love which must take up the knife to slay another, because it is the same love which leads to a knowing willingness to sacrifice the self. 230) Steinbeck is entirely representative of an American type of great influence during the first two decades following World War II, the Stevenson Democrat.

Steinbeck was indeed preeminent among the men of letters to whom this label could be applied; he was one of the many who, having lived through the frustrations of the Depression and the horrors of the war, hoped that the direction of the country might at last be entrusted to a quiet, introspective, cautiously idealistic man with roots in a characteristically American agrarian community.


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