The 1930’s were a decade of great change politically, economically, and socially. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl wore raw the nerves of the people, and our true strength was shown. From it arose John Steinbeck, a storyteller of the Okies and their hardships. His books, especially The Grapes of Wrath, are reflections of what really went on in the 1930’s. John Steinbeck did not write about what he had previously read, he instead wrote what he experienced through his travels with the migrant workers. “His method was not to present himself notebook in hand and interview people. Instead he worked and traveled with the migrants as one of them, living as they did and arousing no suspicion from employers militantly alert against “agitators” of any kind.” (Lisca 14) John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was derived from his personal experiences and his journeys with the migrant workers.
John Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in the town of Salinas, California. Salinas was an agricultural trading center with ties to the farms and ranches in the area. Steinbeck’s father, John Steinbeck Sr., was in the flour-milling business and through it supported his family of three daughters and one son. Steinbeck was a good student and a great writer even at an early age; he wrote stories for his high school paper. (Lisca 1-4)
The experiences that were most influential to Steinbeck were not at school, but instead came from his home and the countryside. He read his mother’s books, which included the titlesof Crime and Punishment, Paradise Lost and The Return of the Native. Another major influence was the countryside of California that surrounded him all his childhood. He went withGood 2
his family to his mother’s family ranch, where Steinbeck was surrounded by nature, and these kinds of trips led him to write such books as “East of Eden” and “The Red Pony”. (Lisca 3-5)
Later in life, Steinbeck wrote a book called “In Dubious Battle”, which made him known as sympathetic to the labor conditions in California. Because of this, Steinbeck accepted assignments to write articles about the migrants working in California. Steinbeck had been aware of the labor problems in his state of California, but for these articles he wanted to experience it firsthand. For inspiration for his articles, and also what would turn out to be the inspiration for “Grapes of Wrath”, he visited t…
…out I’ve tried to make the reader participate in the actuality, what he takes from it will be scaled entirely on his own depth or hollowness. There are five layers in this book, a reader will find as many as he can and he won’t find more than he has in himself. (DeMott xiii).
John Steinbeck was not observing these people’s plight, but was instead living and feeling it. Steinbeck could have only been considered an observer in that he did not have to experience it. Throughout his experiences living and working with the migrants he not only became interested or aware of the cause, but he became attached to the cause and it became a part of him.Good 5
DeMott, Robert. Introduction. The Grapes of Wrath. By John Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Books, 1939.
Lisca, Peter. John Steinbeck: Nature and Myth. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company, 1978.
Steinbeck, Elaine, and Robert Wallsten. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. New York; Penguin Books, 1989
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. 20th century ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1939.
Steinbeck, John. Working Days: The Journals of Grapes of Wrath. Ed. Robert DeMott. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.