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Steinbeck and the Environment

Interdisciplinary Approaches

Susan F. Beegel, Susan Shillinglaw, Wesley N. Tiffney, Elaine Steinbeck

Publication Year: 2007

This interdisciplinary collection of essays explores in-depth a topic previously neglected by scholars:  John Steinbeck's early continuing preoccupation with ecology and marine biology and the effect of that interest on his writings.  Written by scholars from various disciplines, the essays offer a dynamic contribution to the study of John Steinbeck by considering his writings from an environmental perspective.  They reveal Steinbeck as a prophet that was ahead of his time and supremely relevant to our own.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

Since·my husband John Steinbeck died in 1968, I have, I am thankful to say, led a very busy life. I have an apartment in New York to manage and a little house near the sea in Sag Harbor, Long Island. I am the matriarch of a large and scattered family, and I have a happy sociallife with many dear friends...

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pp. xiii-xvi

Many people helped implement the conference "Steinbeck and the Environment," which was held on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, in May 1992 and was the original source of the papers presented in this anthology. The conference was cosponsored by the Steinbeck Research Center of San Jose State University, San Jose, California, and the University of Massachusetts...


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pp. xvii-21

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pp. 1-24

This volume presents papers by researchers of two basic types. The first group consists of people whose primary interest is in American literature and literary criticism. The second group comprises practicing scientists. This characterization of contributors does not mean that the literary cadre is not interested in science or that the scientists are not interested in literature...

Part One: Origins

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pp. 25-47

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1. John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts

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pp. 27-42

One of the most important social changes in these last decades of the twentieth century is, surely, the "greening" of the world population. The widespread concern for the environment and the effect of this concern on the political process and on the amount of money we are devoting to understanding human environmental impacts and reversing their effects are unprecedented...

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2. Steinbeck on Man and Nature

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pp. 43-52

This essay examines the unique form of John Steinbeck's naturalism and the ambiguous, somewhat paradoxical view of the relation between man and nature found in his fictional creations, with particular reference to some of the early work. Perhaps words such as "ambiguous" and "paradoxical" are not perfectly suitable in this context and, in any case, may...

Part Two: The Grapes of Wrath

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pp. 53-75

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3. Turning Wine into Water

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pp. 55-75

The Old Testament describes wilderness as "a thirsty ground where there was no water." When the Lord wished to punish, He threatened to "turn the rivers into islands and dry up the pools and ... command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it." When granting redemption in Isaiah, God promises instead that "waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams...

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4. The "Great Mother" in The Grapes of Wrath

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pp. 76-91

In his depiction of the destruction of the fertile earth and the lives of those who have depended upon her abundance, John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath presents a visionary foreshadowing of the universal ecological disaster that looms so prominently on the horizon today. Equally visionary is his evocation of the primordial alternative to the patriarchal structures...

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5. Steinbeck's Ecological Polemic

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pp. 92-112

As he neared the height of his creative powers in 1936 after completing In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck worked increasingly with documentary material that revealed organized farming interests victimizing migrant farm labor in California. Feeling acutely the need to present the plight of the migrants...

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6. Natural Wisdom

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pp. 113-124

Steinbeck's indebtedness to the American transcendentalists, particularly Emerson and Whitman, has been noted frequently. That relationship lies partly in his way of looking upon the natural world as a source of knowledge, a text to replace or expand upon Scripture, which teaches those who...

Part Three: Sea of Cortez

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pp. 125-147

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7. Searching for "What Is"

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pp. 127-141

The Sea of Cortez was for John Steinbeck what the Galapagos archipelago was for Charles Darwin: a pristine panorama of the natural world, perfect for the illustration of profound interpretations of biology. Steinbeck clearly realized the parallels between his and Ed Ricketts's expedition aboard the...

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8. "The Poetry of Scientific Thinking"

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pp. 142-160

In this oft-quoted and challenging passage, Steinbeck gives us a revealing epitome concerning his artistic preoccupation with form and structure, so clearly reflected in his work as a whole.1 The "four levels" statement still remains open to critical debate, although I would offer a provis...

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9. Revisiting the Sea of Cortez with a "Green" Perspective

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pp. 161-175

Modern environmentalism was presaged by several philosophical streams whose headwaters can be traced in the conservationist, preservationist, and transcendentalist movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On the one hand, thinkers such as John Wesley Powell and Gifford Pinchot...

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10. Education of Environmental Scientists

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pp. 176-193

There are many reasons to study John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts's Log from the Sea of Cortez. Perhaps most urgent is the fact that today the study of "nature" seems the exclusive privilege of "environmental scientists." "Environmental science" has recently been vehemently "introduced"...

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11. The Pearl in the Sea of Cortez

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pp. 194-208

In the "Narrative" section of Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck notes that "on the water's edge of La Paz a new hotel was going up, and it looked very expensive. Probably the airplanes will bring weekenders from Los Angeles before long, and the beautiful poor bedraggled old town will bloom with a Floridian ugliess" (SOC 118). He was prophetic. Fifty...

Part Four: Later Works

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pp. 209-231

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12. "Working at the Impossible"

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pp. 211-228

On Wednesday, 15 August 1951, John Steinbeck might easily have traveled the six miles or so from Footlight, his rented cottage on Baxter Road next to the Coast Guard's Sankaty Lighthouse in Siasconset, to the Unitarian Church in Nantucket for the Historical Association's "Melville Memorial...

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13. At Sea in the Tide Pool

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pp. 229-242

John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent (1961) is a novel that seems almost calculated to be critically unpopular. Certainly, the book's setting, an old whaling town on the East Coast, is a highly improbable one for an author so strongly associated with his native California. For those...

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14. 'The Scars of Our Grasping Stupidity"

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pp. 243-265

While this essay is not exactly an exercise in source study, one of my main concerns here is to decode the presence of John Burroughs in the life and work of John Steinbeck. In order to do that, it will be necessary to pay close attention to Burroughs at the outset, to restate the case for Burroughs's pervasive importance, to remind readers that although John...

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15. Steinbeck under the Sea at the Earth's Core

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pp. 266-278

What lies beneath the surface of the earth? In 1818, John Cleve Symmes, a veteran of the War of 1812, speculated that the earth is hollow and that there are immense apertures at the North and South Poles through which explorers could venture into another world underground. Symmes tried...

Part Five: Overviews

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pp. 279-301

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16. How Green Was John Steinbeck?

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pp. 281-292

At the 1989 meeting of the Western Literature Association, Cheryll Burgess pointed out that "society as a whole and our profession in particular have been faced with three crises in the last thirty years: civil rights, women's liberation, and environmental degradation. The discipline of English...

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17. John Steinbeck

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pp. 293-309

John Steinbeck was a country boy, born and raised in the small town of Salinas, the principal town of an agricultural and stock-raising region, the valley and flanking hills of the Salinas River. Not far tothe west there was the sea, the broad bight of Monterey Bay, with the city of Monterey and its satellite Pacific Grove on the south, its beaches teeming with the life of the sea. As a boy Steinbeck roamed this country as his...

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18. Steinbeck's Environmental Ethic

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pp. 310-322

During his later years John Steinbeck entered a period of intense ethical reflection that inevitably influenced his literature. It occurred to such an extent, in fact, that one might be tempted to categorize the work of the last decade as the "literature of moral concern" or the period itself as a "moral phase...

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19. A World to Be Cherished

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pp. 323-334

John Steinbeck's postwar fiction has often been criticized for being intermittently overdidactic in tone. It is, indeed, a criticism at times hard to refute, but it has to be borne in mind that, in one respect, with a keen interest in and knowledge of marine biology, he must frequently have felt compelled...


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pp. 335-348


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pp. 349-356


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pp. 357-363

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381653
E-ISBN-10: 0817381651
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354879
Print-ISBN-10: 0817354875

Page Count: 383
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: First edition