6 Essential John Steinbeck Books

John Steinbeck is known for his masterful storytelling — His unforgettable characters, his astute knowledge of human nature, and not to forget, his vast and vivid descriptions of the fictional world where his stories take place. But words would do him no justice. To experience a Steinbeck novel , you have to pick one up and read it yourself.

 

 

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1. Of Mice and Men

This novel examines companionship.

Lenny is a man-child with brute strength who destroys everything he touches, and George looks after him. They travel together, and they run away to new places in search for a secure job every time Lenny causes a mishap. They dream the American Dream of owning their own land and working for themselves, but another tragedy soon follows, one that puts an end to their dreams and their companionship.

 

 

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2. The Grapes of Wrath

This novel examines inhumanity.

Set during the Great Depression, Steinbeck narrates a realistic picture of the Joad family as they struggle out of their hopeless situation of drought and economic hardship. The story points out to the fact that humanity’s struggle is not due to the horrible weather or the economy, but due to humanity itself, how we treat one another. Social circumstances draw a fine line between the privileged and the poor, which alone is a source of suffering.

 

 

 

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3. The Pearl

This novel examines greed.

It’s a story of Kino, a simple man who finds a pearl in the ocean and how that discovery changes his family and the fellow villagers. Kino witnesses man’s lust for wealth as his jealous neighbors start giving him the cold shoulder, doctors who refused to treat his ill baby are now kind and helpful, thieves make many attempts to break into his home. The story reminds us of the length to which how greed can bring irrevocable destruction to our life, of how due to greed, we lose things that are more important than our desires.

 

 

 

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4. East of Eden

This novel examines good and evil.

Known as Steinbeck’s magnum opus, he chronicles his own family history and also that of a fictional family, the Trasks. Steinbeck puts in a beautifully exhaustive detail of the smells and sounds of his memories in his hometown, Salinas. All the while, he shows us that even the cruelest people in this world have a light in their hearts, and in that, no matter how dim that light is, they possess the capability for good and the choice to overcome evil.

 

 

 

 

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5. The Moon is Down

This novel invites empathy.

This is a story of a small town being invaded by enemy soldiers. We visit the minds of the soldiers as they face a resilient community who refuse to be conquered. Instead of portraying the soldiers as purely evil and heartless, Steinbeck shows us that they are just like anyone else, they too have a longing to have fun, to be in love, to be at home. They can’t stay as soldiers forever. At some point, they have to become human beings.

 

 

 

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6. The Red Pony

This novel examines adulthood.

Through the sickness and death of his pony and other events in his life, Jody learns the ways of the world and what it means to be a grown man — That he is powerless against the forces of nature. Nature is indifferent to man’s wishes. Everyone lives and dies, things happen in which we have no control over. To be an adult, Jody learns, is to accept this as part of life. We are not God, and we can never be God. Reality only bends to His will, not ours.

 

 

 

 

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7. A Life in Letters

This is an extra.

Reading letters isn’t exactly fun, but it’s incredibly rewarding if you seek to understand the mind behind the many brilliant stories. We learn just how hard he struggled in his early days as a writer, and we get to understand how he sewed his ideas together. In his letters he tells of his great purpose in writing stories — Until the very end of his life, his duty was in helping people understand each other, and to help the human heart soar.

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