Death and Dying in Literature
Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett
Chapter Fourteen: Quick and Long-Lasting: Death and Dying in John Steinbeck’s Fiction
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Quick AND Long-Lasting
Death and Dying in John Steinbeck’s Fiction1
JOHN J. HAN
For decades, studies of John Steinbeck’s (1902–68) fiction have tended to center on sociological or moral issues. The name Steinbeck is popularly linked to two of his novels that reflect the politico-economic milieu of the 1930s: Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, which have earned him various labels such as “a proletarian novelist,” “a social novelist,” and “a radical novelist.” The 2013 publication of the volume A Political Companion to John Steinbeck evidences that many scholars still view him as an ideological writer. An increasing number of scholars are also paying attention to him as a moralist. The Moral Philosophy of John Steinbeck (2005), edited by Stephen K. George, is a case in point. The volume collects essays on Steinbeck’s ideas on various issues, such as business ethics, utilitarianism, and multiculturalism. Approaching Steinbeck’s work as a moral text has been encouraged by the author himself, who openly advocates morality and ethics in his fiction. His didactic novella The Pearl (1947) is an allegory whose teachings, he says, are open to diverse interpretations. One of his later novels, The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), also contains the author’s criticism of the decline of morality in American society.
However, the heavy emphasis on Steinbeck’s political, economic, and moral ideas has sometimes slighted an important aspect...
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