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A Political Companion to John Steinbeck

edited by Cyrus Ernesto Zirakzadeh and Simon Stow

Publication Year: 2013

Though he was a recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature, American novelist John Steinbeck (1902--1968) has frequently been censored. Even in the twenty-first century, nearly ninety years after his work first appeared in print, Steinbeck's novels, stories, and plays still generate controversy: his 1937 book Of Mice and Men was banned in some Mississippi schools in 2002, and as recently as 2009, he made the American Library Association's annual list of most frequently challenged authors. A Political Companion to John Steinbeck examines the most contentious political aspects of the author's body of work, from his early exploration of social justice and political authority during the Great Depression to his later positions regarding domestic and international threats to American policies. Featuring contemporaneous and present-day interpretations of his novels and essays by historians, literary scholars, and political theorists, this book covers the spectrum of Steinbeck's writing, exploring everything from his place in American political culture to his seeming betrayal of his leftist principles in later years.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Political Companions to Great American Authors

Front Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Quotes

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Series Foreword

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pp. ix-x

...attend to the great theorists, philosophers, and essayists. Such a study is incomplete, however, if it neglects American literature, one of the greatest America’s literature is distinctive because it is, above all, intended for a democratic citizenry. In contrast to eras when an author would aim to in-form or infl uence a select aristocratic audience, in democratic times public ...

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Prologue: John Steinbeck in the 1930s: Living Under the Gun

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pp. 12-18

IN ONE OF HIS MORE obscure works, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, John Steinbeck asserts that in any fight “the final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental.” Perhaps. This analysis, however, didn’t stop Steinbeck from packing a pistol in the late 1930s, just in case he needed It isn’t entirely clear what kind of fi rearm he had. But records suggest ...

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Introduction: The Dangerous Ambivalence of John Steinbeck

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pp. 19-27

AT A TIME WHEN the United States is enduring a severe economic crisis caused by the unregulated lending practices of major fi nancial institutions, decades of antilabor policies, and rampant globalization; when that crisis has driven families from their homes; and when the gap between the rich and poor in America is, by some measures, larger than at any point in its ...

Part I

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pp. 28-29

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Chapter 1. Revolutionary Conservative, Conservative Revolutionary? John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath

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pp. 30-59

IN 1939 JOHN STEINBECK finished The Grapes of Wrath, his sixth novel.1 It is, among other things, a political saga about the Joads, an imaginary family of heavily indebted tenant farmers who are suddenly evicted from the land that their forebears had seized from Indians and Mexicans and then proudly cultivated.2 Rather than remain in Oklahoma and become ...

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Chapter 2. Star Signals: John Steinbeck in the American Protest Literature Tradition

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pp. 60-87

...“A WRITER . . . IS TRYING to communicate like a distant star sending signals,” observed John Steinbeck in 1955—“to tell a story begging the lis-tener to say—and to feel—‘Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.’”1 Although he did not anticipate a widespread and explosive response to The Grapes of Wrath (1939), he did ...

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Chapter 3. The Novelist as Playwright: Adaptation, Politics, and the Plays of John Steinbeck

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pp. 88-108

THE AUTHOR OF SOME twenty-seven novels and wor ks of nonfiction, John Steinbeck was unmistakably committed to prose. Yet according to Brooks Atkinson, theater critic for the New York Times, he could have easily been one of America’s greatest playwrights, crafting works designed for performance and not simply for private reading. Steinbeck’s “first play,” ...

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Chapter 4. Steinbeck and the Tragedy of Progress

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pp. 109-127

Prize for Literature. Fearing that the award would prove to be an “epitaph” for his writing career, he hesitated to embrace the accolades of the literary establishment. Shortly afterward, critics who believed his writings were unworthy of the award spoke up. Steinbeck complained to his friend Bo Beskow, a Swedish artist, “I suppose you know of the attack on the award to ...

Part II

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pp. 128-129

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Chapter 5. Group Man and the Limits of Working-Class Politics: The Political Vision of Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle

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pp. 130-156

...its political objectivity and realism. Most reviewers judged Steinbeck as broadly sympathetic toward the striking apple pickers and Communist organizers portrayed in the novel yet deemed In Dubious Battle devoid of bald propaganda. As William Rose Benét wrote in the Saturday Review, “The author’s attempt has been to bring out heroic motive and action in ...

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Chapter 6. The Indifference of Nature and the Cruelty of Wealth

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pp. 157-181

...whose work has been the subject of as much disagreement as John Stein-beck’s. For some critics, his work embodies a tradition of American thought that is indebted to Emerson, Whitman, and Dewey, and extends what is unique to that tradition (see chapter 2, by Zoe Trodd).1 It is precisely the kind of literature that Emerson insisted Americans must develop for ...

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Chapter 7. "The Technique of Building Worlds": Exodian Nation Formation in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

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pp. 182-199

PUBLISHED IN 1939, The Grapes of Wrath is a creative cultural product with its roots in Steinbeck’s journalistic training, his radical worldview, and the Bible. On the one hand, the novel makes explicit the veracity of its textual representation of migrant workers during the Depression. On the other hand, like John Winthrop and William Bradford before him, ...

Part III

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pp. 200-201

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Chapter 8. Focusing on the Migrant: The Contextualization of Dorothea Lange's Photographs of the John Steinbeck Committee

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pp. 202-237

and the photography created under the auspices of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) have been synonymous with the Great Depression.1 Americans use these works of art, rightfully or not, as lenses through which to view the conditions and the challenges of America in the latter half of the 1930s.2 More...

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Chapter 9. Participatory Parables: Cinema, Social Action, and Steinbeck's Mexican Dilemma

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pp. 238-257

AT THE END OF 1939 Steinbeck found himself exhausted by his work over the spring and summer on the medical documentary The Fight for Life (about care in maternity hospitals), by the publicity surrounding the publication of The Grapes of Wrath in April of that year, and by the mixed public reactions to the book, some of which—in circles of privilege and ...

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Chapter 10. "Not Afraid of Being Heroic": Bruce Springsteen's John Steinbeck

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pp. 258-278

Bruce Springsteen. Most obviously, Springsteen recorded an album titled The Ghost of Tom Joad in 1995, and during the subsequent tour he received the first John Steinbeck In the Souls of the People Award from the Center for Steinbeck Studies. The New York Times dubbed him “Steinbeck in Leather” in 1997. But more importantly, both artists sought to effect ...

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Chapter 11. Retelling an American Political Tale: A Comparison of Literary, Cinematic, and Musical Versions of The Grapes of Wrath

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pp. 279-301

Hall of Fame, at Madison Square Garden in 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with guest performer Tom Morello (the lead guitarist of the recently disbanded rock group Rage Against the Machine) performed a loud, electrifi ed version of Springsteen’s song “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Films of the performance record fans cheering wildly. To make sure that ...

Part IV

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pp. 302-303

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Chapter 12. Patriotic Ironies: John Steinbeck's Wartime Service to His Country

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pp. 304-321

IRONIES ABOUND IN THE story of Steinbeck’s service to his country during World War II. Although his biographers generally acknowledge that Steinbeck was not, beyond his novels and journalism, particularly politically active until the war, others’ perceptions of his political leanings created considerable barriers for his attempts to serve his country. While many of his ...

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Chapter 13. John Steinbeck's Shifting View of America: From Travels with Charley to America and Americans

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pp. 322-335

Travels with Charley (1962) and America and Americans (1966) among the “serious defeats” of Steinbeck’s later career, he reiterates a position that others have long held.1 Whether or not one accepts this notion of a decline in Steinbeck’s powers, these two neglected works provide a compendium of his life, thought, and art found nowhere else in his canon. They treat a ...

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Chapter 14. "Can You Honestly Love a Dishonest Thing?" The Tragic Patriotism of The Winter of Our Discontent

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pp. 336-359

...is a literary enigma. While the Nobel Prize Committee cited it as evidence of his continued importance as a writer, many of Steinbeck’s contemporary critics dismissed it as a minor work from a journeyman author whose best days were behind him.1 More recently a number of commentators have sought to rehabilitate the book and, with it, the later-Steinbeck’s literary ...

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pp. 360-363

FIRST AND FOREMOST the editors wish to thank Steve Wrinn at the University Press of Kentucky. Steve’s enthusiasm for the project sustained us through a number of setbacks. In addition, his kindness and compassion when each of us experienced sudden and unexpected losses in our immedi-ate families demonstrated that not only is he a wonderful editor, but he is ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 364-367


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pp. 368-371


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pp. 372-373

Series Page

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pp. 374-385

E-ISBN-13: 9780813142043
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813142029

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Political Companions to Great American Authors