Of Mice and Men

More a Mouse Than a Man

"If an author does not have at least one great popular success, he or she may well be ignored by the media, but if he or she is constantly popular, then the critics become suspicious of the writer's serious intentions" (Benson Introduction). What do critics from the literary world have to say about Steinbeck's writings? Critics have much to say, both positive and negative. What link exists between Steinbeck and his writings? Perhaps the most noteworthy biographical link between Steinbeck and his writings is that he was born and came to maturity in the Salinas Valley. In this area of California, bounded on the north and south by the Pajaro and Jolon valleys on the west and east by the Pacific Ocean and the Gabilan Mountains, Steinbeck found the materials for his fiction (Tedlock 3). John Steinbeck's agricultural upbringing in the California area vibrantly shines through in the settings and story lines of the majority of his works.
John Ernst Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, on February 27, 1902. His father's family, originally called Grossteinbeck, had come from Wuppertal, about twenty miles east of the German city of Düsseldorf. During summers he worked as a hired hand on nearby ranches, "nourishing" his impression of the California countryside and its people (Lisca 32). He made occasional exciting trips to San Francisco with his family and more frequent trips to the Monterey peninsula (Fontenrose 2). In 1918, he became ill with pneumonia and almost died, but he was able to recover. After graduating from Salinas High School in 1919, Steinbeck enrolled at Stanford University, taking courses in English and Marine Science (Bloom 11). He was always an excellent student, eager to learn both in and out of school, interested in books, music, science, religion, and sports (Fontenrose 3). During this time, he worked as a sales clerk, farm laborer, ranch hand, and factory worker, and left Stanford permanently in the fall of 1925 without a degree (Fontenrose 3).
In New York City, his brother-in-law found him a job pushing wheelbarrows for the construction of the original Madison Square Garden while continuing his pursuit as a writer (Lisca 32). After giving free-lance writing a try, he returned to California in 1926 (Fontenrose 3). For the next three years, periods of temporary employment alternated with periods devoted entirely to writing; and he moved from place to place, to San Francisco, Monterey, Salinas, Lake Tahoe, writing novels and stories that no publisher would buy (Fontenrose 4).
On January 14, 1930, Steinbeck married his first wife, Carol Henning (Fontenrose 4). As a gift, his father gave him a house in Pacific Grove, California. Later that year, Steinbeck met Edward Ricketts, owner and operator of a small commercial biological laboratory on the waterfront of Monterey. Steinbeck's association with Ricketts stimulated "the best period of his career" (Fontenrose 4). Steinbeck's second marriage began on March 29, 1943, when he married Gwyndolen Conger. Soon after, he became a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. In 1944, his first son, Tom, was born. His second son, John IV, followed two years later. In December of 1948, Steinbeck was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
On December 28, 1950, Steinbeck married his third wife, Elaine Anderson Scott. On October 25, 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. On September 14, 1964, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His support of the Vietnam War in his final years came as a shock to some (Bloom 14). Throughout his life, John Steinbeck remained a private person who shunned publicity (Bloom 15). In 1968 he suffered several heart attacks while summering in Sag Harbor. He died on December 20, 1968 of arteriosclerosis in New York City. His ashes were placed in the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Salinas (Bloom 15).
John Steinbeck has published eight volumes of fiction, each as different from the others as all are different from the writings of most novelists. He has employed a variety of techniques to describe an assortment of characters? His readers have come to expect the unexpected; his critics have taken refuge in enthusiasm or despair. But beneath this apparent variety, Steinbeck has been astonishingly consistent. A single purpose has directed his experimentation, a single ideas has guided his literary thought. Always his fiction has described the interplay of