What John Steinbeck did... and why you should care
Steinbeck Country. If you have ever driven the central California coast, from the broad yellow valleys of Salinas, through rolling green hills of farmland to the slick, fog-draped streets of Monterey, then you have been there. That part of California is so closely associated with John Steinbeck's novels and stories that even today Monterey County and its towns proudly advertise their connections to the famous writer, who was born and buried in the farm town of Salinas.
Of course, Steinbeck's perspective was far wider—and his legacy is far greater—than simple depictions of the Monterey County landscape. Steinbeck's real gift was to see people that the rest of society chose to overlook: defeated refugees of the Dust Bowl, unemployed paisanos, cannery workers eking out a living on a factory wage. During his 40-year career, Steinbeck crafted roughly two dozen novels, short story collections and works of nonfiction, and also wrote for Hollywood and the stage. His 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, a stark depiction of migrant farmers in the Dust Bowl, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is acknowledged as one of the classics of American literature.
In his fiction, plays and travelogues, Steinbeck challenged his readers to look at the harsh realities of life, with the belief that facing such conditions was the first step toward improving them. Steinbeck's strongest belief was in the ability of man to improve his condition. "The ancient commission of the writer has not changed," he said upon accepting his Nobel Prize in 1962. "He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement."1 By giving voice to voiceless people, John Steinbeck lived up to the challenge he set for himself.