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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   



12. Migrant
Struggle


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Rudolfo A. Anaya
- Carlos Bulosan
- Robinson Jeffers
- Alberto Ríos
- Tomas Rivera
- Muriel Rukeyser
- Upton Sinclair
- John Steinbeck
- Henry David Thoreau
- Helena Maria Viramontes
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

Migrant Workers Near Manteca, Ca.
[5872] Dorothea Lange, Migrant Workers Near Manteca, Ca. (1938), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USF34-018767-C].

John Steinbeck Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, depicts the plight of the Joads, a family of Oklahoma sharecropper farmers who were driven off the land they worked by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The story of their journey to California to find work as agricultural laborers, a journey that they made along the often bleak Highway 66, helped secure Steinbeck's place in American literature.

Born in the Salinas Valley of California, Steinbeck attended Stanford University for a time and then spent a number of years traveling and studying on his own, while developing his craft as a writer. He lived in New York for a short while and attempted to earn money from his writing. He eventually returned to California. His first literary successes were his 1935 novel, Tortilla Flat, followed the next year by In Dubious Battle. Tortilla Flat was about people in a small town in northern California whose exploits mirrored those of the knights of King Arthur, while In Dubious Battle focused on a migrant fruit pickers' strike. In 1937, Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men about two drifters who dreamed of owning their own ranch. Steinbeck's 1938 story collection, The Long Valley, includes often-anthologized tales of a young boy, Jody, growing up in a West that is no longer a frontier. Steinbeck's other works include Cannery Row (1935), The Pearl (1945), East of Eden (1952), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), and Travels with Charley (1962). He was most interested in the plight of disempowered outsiders, outcasts, and the underprivileged. He died in New York City in 1968, having won the Nobel Prize for literature five years earlier.

While doing research for The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck visited several of the camps the Farm Security Administration had built to house the homeless migrants who arrived in California from the Dust Bowl states. He spoke to the migrants there and listened to their stories. In fact, Steinbeck wrote a series of newspaper and journal articles about these workers and their plights, which were later gathered into a collection called Their Blood Is Strong, published in 1938. Steinbeck's ideas about social justice for the economic underclass of American society influenced both later American writers such as William Kennedy and popular songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. His journalistic style has been imitated and admired by authors such as Dorothy Parker and Tom Wolfe.



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