Steinbeck Studies 15.2 (2004) 175-185
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Enthusiasm for Steinbeck Continues . . . From Familiar Voices and New
The extraordinary nationwide celebration in 2002 marking John Steinbeck's 100th year invigorated considerable interest in the author then and continues through these ensuing years. Ever-broadened literary and scientific essays as well as several that offer innovative teaching methodology explore the dimensions of Steinbeck's writing. Anne Keisman's "The Steinbeck Centennial" in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Yearbook: 2002 (Eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and George Garrett. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 473-76) describes the programs and exhibits, primarily in New York and California where Steinbeck lived, as the "largest single-author tribute in American history," with centennial editions of his major novels, public readings, and festivals that attest to his enduring appeal.
The following selections display an increasingly positive critical approach—with a few controversial exceptions—and would seem to reinforce Steinbeck's place as a durable giant of twentieth-century American literature.
John Steinbeck: A Centennial Tribute, edited by Stephen K. George (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. Contributions to Study of American Literature, No. 15), is separated into two parts: reflections by "Family, Friends, and Authors" and homage from "Critics, Scholars, and Bibliographers." The volume contains twenty-three interviews and essays, a few of which are reprints but many are new. The collection provides candid glimpses into the real person behind the public persona, while the [End Page 175]
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| Figure 1 |
Photo by Dorothea Lange.
scholars provide interesting background on the reasons they became absorbed in studying the man and his work.
Barbara A. Heavilin's study, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 2002. Greenwood Guides to Fiction), is directed toward undergraduates, setting Steinbeck's writing in context with his personal life, the social and cultural conditions of the times, and the book's place in world literature. Chapters are devoted to examination of themes, imagery, style, and the dialogic link between the intercalary and the narrative chapters. Excerpts from major critical evaluations provide discussion of what Stephen K. George in the preface describes as the fascinating evolution and the stasis of opposing critical views.
On The Grapes of Wrath
"The Voyage of the Joads," by Luigi Zoja, translation by Henry Martin, in The Father: Historical, Psychological and Cultural Perspectives (East Sussex, Eng.: Brunner-Routledge. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis, 2001. 209-22) looks at Homer's The Aeneid as Steinbeck's inspiration for The Grapes of Wrath; the epic narrative on poverty traces not only the collapse of rural life but also the collapse of the father—the degeneration of paternal attitudes clearly a reverse of the archetypal patriarch.
Joseph Blotner's tale recounting the experience of hiking into Bavaria at the end of World War ii in "The End of the Road" (Sewanee Review 110.4 : 606) briefly compares the trek of the soldiers to that of the Joad family, who embody the processes of fusion and then dissolution into smaller units each morning.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz profiles the genealogical background of the American settlers who eventually became "Okies" in California, the core group comprising Ulster-Scots, in "One or Two Things I Know About Us: Rethinking the Image and Role of the 'Okies'" (Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine July/Aug. 2002: 13-28). She then turns to writers and entertainers who have perpetuated the "Okie mythology," finding white supremacy to be a major element and one that accounts for much of the appeal of The Grapes of Wrath.
Keith Windschuttle in "Steinbeck's Myth of the Okies" (New Criterion 20.10 : 24-32) raises controversy by charging that Steinbeck exaggerated the facts of the Depression and the Okie migration "beyond belief," which Windschuttle [End Page 177] finds evident from the accumulation of historical, demographic, and climatic data about the 1930s. From overseas came defense of Steinbeck by Windschuttle's Aussie countryman Bernard Lane with "Storm in a Dust Bowl" (The Australian 31 July 2002: 11), contrasting Windschuttle's views with those of columnist Phillip...