Easily one of America's most important novelists, John Steinbeck has been a favorite among readers of all kinds for decades. A versatile, restless writer who constantly experimented with new forms and genres, he seems to offer something for everyone-whether rapturous descriptions of the California landscape, fierce denunciations of social injustices, simple morality tales, or just picaresque adventure stories. His simple prose style makes him a perennial favorite among students, yet the layers of meaning his simplicity conceals give many readers deep, lifelong enjoyment. Edited and with an introduction by Don Noble, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Alabama, this volume in the Critical Insights series brings together a variety of classic and contemporary essays on this American author. Countering some of the more severe criticisms leveled against Steinbeck, Noble's introduction argues that readers have good reason to respect the Nobel laureate's accomplishments, and Hua Hsu, writing for The Paris Review, celebrates the author's social vision.
For readers studying Steinbeck for the first time, four new essays provide a framework for studying the author in greater depth. Matthew J. Bolton reviews Steinbeck's critical reputation, and Jennifer Banach describes the social and historical contexts to which Steinbeck responded in his work. Gurdip Panesar evaluates the novelist's relationship to literary naturalism by comparing him with one of America's quintessential literary naturalists, Frank Norris. Finally, Cynthia A. Bily offers an ecofeminist reading of the stories of The Long Valley. Next, a selection of classic and contemporary essays introduce readers to key issues in the critical discussion of Steinbeck. Opening this section is Jackson J. Benson's "John Steinbeck: The Favorite Author We Love to Hate," in which Benson attempts to explain why Steinbeck's popular reputation is at such variance with his critical reputation. Steinbeck's most popular novels-Tortilla Flat, In Dubious Battle, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath-are then treated in several essays. Joseph Fontenrose explains how the underlying structure of Tortilla Flat incorporates Arthurian legend and ecological theory, and Thomas M.
Tammaro describes the merits of In Dubious Battle. Of Mice and Men is treated by Anne Loftis, who guides readers through its composition, and Louis Owens, who explicates the novel's themes of paradise, loneliness, and commitment. Finally, John Seelye compares The Grapes of Wrath to another sentimental protest novel, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Susan Shillinglaw describes how California writers responded to the challenges issued by The Grapes of Wrath. Next, a group of essays examine themes prevalent across Steinbeck's work. Warren G. French illustrates the psychological commonalities between Steinbeck and some of his most famous protagonists, and James C. Kelley and John H. Timmerman take up the author's views on science and nature. Mimi Gladstein and Susan Shillinglaw also analyze Steinbeck's portraits of women and racial minorities. Finally, the work of Steinbeck's middle and late career is covered by three essays. Robert E. Morsberger describes the author's involvement in World War II and evaluates his wartime writing. Carol L.
Hansen takes up the moral schema of East of Eden, and Robert DeMott attempts to rehabilitate the critically panned Sweet Thursday as an experimental comedy. Concluding the section is a revealing 1995 interview with Steinbeck's third wife, Elaine. Rounding out the volume are a biography and chronology of John Steinbeck's life, a list of his major publications, and a bibliography of resources for readers wishing to study Steinbeck and his work in greater depth.