Steinbeck and His Novel
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) had the ability the write a generation's story into one novel. His capacity to grasp reality and portray it through such remarkable fiction made The Grapes of Wrath (1939) one of the best novels ever written, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1940. Born 27 February 1902, in Salinas, a small Californian town in the heart of the Californian Valley scheme, Steinbeck's career was on full of many achievements including winning the Noble Prize for Literature in 1962. Although not always praised by critics, Steinbeck's writing has always been and still remains popular. His other works include, The Pastures of Heaven (1932), Tortilla Flat (1935), In Dubious Battle (1936), East of Eden (1952) and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961).
Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath after travelling from Okalahoma to California with migrant farmers like the Joad family. The story focuses around these farmers, forced to move west to seek employment. The Dustbowl drought, the Wall Street crash and the short-sighted plans of the Hoover administration, created the most savage Depression which claimed many of these farmers' lives, but not the spirit of the American heartland. Steinbeck taps into this audacious spirit to create a story that calls to the humanity in all of us.
The novel was quickly adapted for the screen, becoming an instant success starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. It was not until 1988, when The Steppenwolf Theatre Company, under the direction of Frank Galati, that The Grapes of Wrath was to be brought to life on the stage. Galati himself adapted the novel into script and was the first playwright to be given permission to do so by Steinbeck's estate. The production toured through London and the US, and finally performed a Broadway season. Both the novel and the play have become international successes winning
two of the most prestigious writing and performance awards: a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony award.
Have a look at songs that capture the same push east to west, a very distinctive theme established because of the lands profile, found in numerous examples of US culture. Talk about the lyrics, how they relate to this theme and how it has adapted over the years. What kind of human spirit is evident? How has it changed?
Route 66 – By Bobby Troupe
Homeward Bound/America – By Simon and Garfunkle
Blowin' in the Wind – By Bob Dylan
On the Road Again – By Willie Nelson
Life is a Highway – By Tom Cochrane
Born to be Wild – By Steppenwolf
California Dreamin' - The Mamas and the Papas