Sunday, April 3, 2011

John Steinbeck and the Modernism Literary Movement

Although certain elements of John Steinbeck's writing fit characteristics of a variety of literary movements, he will, without doubt, go down in history as a great modernist. Modernism is viewed as a literary movement based on intelligence, free will, investigation of the human consciousness, and as a stark comparison to realism as well as the values of tradition. One of Steinbeck's most successful and influential and perhaps most relevant in terms of the modernism literary movement, novels was The Grapes of Wrath. The main point made in the story, of man under the conditions of the conditions of the Great Depression, is that no matter how intense the attack on its "existence" may be "the group will defend itself unyieldingly" (Gray 54). Because of the "social injustices" that were depicted so sharply in this book, Steinbeck himself was accused of being a revolutionary. "Certainly he paints the oppressive economic system in bleak colors, but Warren French argues convincingly, however, that Steinbeck was basically a reformer, not a revolutionary" (Gray 55-56). Steinbeck wanted to change the attitudes and behaviors of people, both migrants and economic aristocrats, not to overturn the private enterprise system. The theme that all men belong together, "are a part of one another," and are all part of a "greater whole" that "transcends momentary reality," is what sets The Grapes of Wrath apart from the genre of the "timely proletarian" and make it a symbol for all men in any occurrence (Gray 57). The "wrath" experienced by common man grows throughout the book, but is considered to be better than despair because "wrath" puts things into action, this is, without doubt, an attempt by Steinbeck to investigate the human consciousness through his writing.

Furthermore, this unified human experience which proletariats undergo throughout a multitude of Steinbeck's novels, is a defining trademark of early 20th century modernists such as Steinbeck. "It is a point in which is basic to Steinbeck's art. For to Steinbeck, modern life itself is often the enemy, in which characters find themselves lost in a world they never made and want nothing to do with" (Magill American 1889).  Through such a style, Steinbeck's writing revolts against the conservative principles of realism, thus further securing his place in history as a modernist. Steinbeck left one last message to the world on his poem plaque on which the following was written: "The free exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world" (Magill Long Fiction 3154-3155).

Works Cited

Gray, James. John Steinbeck American Writers: A collection of 
    Literary biographies. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,
    1961. 49-72.
Magill, Frank N. John Steinbeck. Millichap, Joseph R., ed. Critical 
    Survey of Long Fiction: English Language Series. Pasadera: 
    Salem Press, 1991. 3149-3162.
Magill, Frank N. John Steinbeck Shuman, Baird. R., ed. Magill's 
    Survey of American Literature: Volume 6. New York: Marshall 
    Cavendish Corporation, 1991. 1885-1899


Blogger Unknown said...

this really helped me. thanks:D

June 2, 2014 at 5:01 PM  

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