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The Winter of Our Discontent (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)by John Steinbeck
Published the year before Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962, The Winter of Our Discontent has often been undeservedly scorned by critics as his most lackluster effort. Set in the summer in a fictional New England town, this timeless story tells the tale of Ethan Allen Hawley, descendant of a well-to-do family, who now finds himself working as a shop clerk in the very store he once owned. Father, husband, and man of impeccable integrity, Hawley struggles to maintain his pride while providing for his family's needs. A critique of the temptation, greed, corruption, and relaxed morality that has come to mark too much of modern American life, Winter pits the quest for wealth and status against the virtues of a meritorious life. Steinbeck's novel, acute in its characterizations of the human condition, is an unforgettable testament to the conflicting dualities that shape us all. As he declared in his speech at the Nobel Prize banquet, "Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope."
"John Steinbeck was born to write of the sea coast, and he does so with savor and love. His dialogue is full of life, the entrapment of Ethan is ingenious, and the morality in this novel marks Mr. Steinbeck's return to the mood and the concern with which he wrote The Grapes of Wrath." Edward Weeks, The Atlantic Monthly (July 1961) (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
Ethan Hawley works as a clerk in the grocery store owned by an Italian immigrant. His wife is restless, and his teenaged children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.
"A poignant, bitter, deeply ironic comment on the lessening of American standards." San Francisco Chronicle
"In this book John Steinbeck returns to the high standards of The Grapes of Wrath and to the social themes that made his early work so impressive, and so powerful." Saul Bellow
About the Author
John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).
After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey's paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.
Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942). Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright (1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family's history.
The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata! (1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures.
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