Last modified on 2 November 2014, at 04:08

John Steinbeck

In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.

John Ernst Steinbeck III (February 27, 1902December 20, 1968) was one of the best-known and most widely read American writers of the 20th century. A winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, he is best known for his novella Of Mice and Men (1937) and his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), both of which examine the lives of the working class and migrant workers during the Great Depression.

See also:
The Grapes of Wrath
East of Eden

QuotesEdit

The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit — for gallantry in defeat — for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.
  • We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — ”Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.”
    • “In Awe of Words,” The Exonian, 75th anniversary edition, Exeter University (1930)
  • The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.
    • “In Awe of Words,” The Exonian, 75th anniversary edition, Exeter University (1930)
  • In every bit of honest writing in the world … there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. there is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.
    • Journal entry (1938), quoted in the Introduction to a 1994 edition of Of Mice and Men by Susan Shillinglaw, p. vii
  • I must go over into the interior valleys. … There are five thousand families starving to death over there, not just hungry but actually starving. The government is trying to feed them and get medical attention to them, with the Fascist group of utilities and banks and huge growers sabotaging the thing all along the line, and yelling for a balanced budget. In one tent there were twenty people quarantined for small pox and two of the women are to have babies in that tent this week. I've tied into the thing from the first and I must get down there and see it and see if I can do something to knock these murderers on the heads.
    Do you know what they're afraid of? They think that if these people are allowed to live in camps with proper sanitary facilities they will organize, and that is the bugbear of the large landowner and the corporate farmer. The states and counties will give them nothing because they are outsiders. But the crops of any part of this state could not be harvested without them. … The death of children by starvation in our valleys is simply staggering. … I'll do what I can. … Funny how mean and little books become in the face of such tragedies.
    • Letter to Elizabeth Otis (1938), as quoted in Conversations with John Steinbeck (1988) edited by Thomas Fensch, p. 37
  • You see this book is finished and it is a bad book and I must get rid of it. It can't be printed. It is bad because it isn't honest. Oh! the incidents all happened but —  I'm not telling as much of the truth about them as I know. In satire you have to restrict the picture and I just can't do satire. I've written three books now that were dishonest because they were less than the best that I could do. One you never saw because I burned it the day I finished it. … My whole work drive has been aimed at making people understand each other and then I deliberately write this book, the aim of which is to cause hatred through partial understanding. My father would have called it a smart-alec book. It was full of tricks to make people ridiculous. If I can't do better I have slipped badly. And that I won't admit — yet.
    • Letter to Elizabeth Otis, expressing dissatisfaction with L'Affaire Lettuceburg — a satire he abandoned in favor of work on what became The Grapes of Wrath (c. mid-May 1938) as quoted in Conversations with John Steinbeck (1988) edited by Thomas Fensch, p. 38
  • It is a nice thing to be working and believing in my work again. I hope I can keep the drive. I only feel whole and well when it is this way.
  • For the first time I am working on a book that is not limited and that will take every bit of experience and thought and feeling that I have.
    • Journal entry (11 June 1938), published in Working Days : The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, 1938-1941 (1990) edited by Robert DeMott
  • Boileau said that Kings, Gods and Heroes only were fit subjects for literature. The writer can only write about what he admires. Present-day kings aren't very inspiring, the gods are on a vacation and about the only heroes left are the scientists and the poor … And since our race admires gallantry, the writer will deal with it where he finds it. He finds it in the struggling poor now.
    • Radio interview (1939) quoted in Introduction by Robert DeMott to a 1992 edition of The Grapes of Wrath.
  • Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.
    • Interview with Robert van Gelder (April 1947), as quoted in John Steinbeck : A Biography (1994) by Jay Parini
  • All hell has broken loose. I admit our Russian is limited, but we can say hello, come in, you are beautiful, oh no you don't. … So in our pride we ordered for breakfast an omelet, toast and coffee and what has just arrived is a tomato salad with onions, a dish of pickles, a big slice of watermelon and two bottles of cream soda. Something has slipped badly.
    • On difficulties while traveling in the USSR (20 August 1947), in Steinbeck : A Life in Letters (1976)
  • What good men most biologists are, the tenors of the scientific world — temperamental, moody, lecherous, loud-laughing, and healthy. Your true biologist will sing you a song as loud and off-key as will a blacksmith, for he knows that morals are too often diagnostic of prostatitis and stomach ulcers. Sometimes he may proliferate a little too much in all directions, but he is as easy to kill as any other organism, and meanwhile he is very good company, and at least he does not confuse a low hormone productivity with moral ethics.
  • "...Let us go," we said, "into the Sea of Cortez, realizing that we become forever a part of it; that our rubber boots slogging through a flat of eel-grass, that the rocks we turn over in a tide pool, make us truly and permanently a factor in the ecology of the region. We shall take something away from it, but we shall leave something too." And if we seem a small factor in a huge pattern, nevertheless it is of relative importance. We take a tiny colony of soft corals from a rock in a little water world. And that isn't terribly important to the tide pool. Fifty miles away the Japanese shrimp boats are dredging with overlapping scoops, bringing up tons of shrimps, rapidly destroying the species so that it may never come back, and with the species destroying the ecological balance of the whole region. That isn't very important in the world. And thousands of miles away the great bombs are falling and the stars are not moved thereby. None of it is important or all of it is.
    • The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951)
  • No little appetite or pain, no carelessness or meanness in him escaped her; no thought or dream or longing in him ever reached her. And yet several times in her life she had seen the stars.
    • "The moon is down" (1942), p. 7
  • I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.
    • "...like captured fireflies" (1955); also published in America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction (2003), p. 142
  • One man was so mad at me that he ended his letter: “Beware. You will never get out of this world alive.”
    • “The Mail I’ve Seen” Saturday Review (3 August 1956)
  • If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.
    • Letter to Adlai Stevenson (5 November 1959), quoted in The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer : A Biography (1984), by Jackson J. Benson, p. 876
  • Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.
    • Quote magazine (18 June 1961)
  • The President must be greater than anyone else, but not better than anyone else. We subject him and his family to close and constant scrutiny and denounce them for things that we ourselves do every day. A Presidential slip of the tongue, a slight error in judgment — social, political, or ethical — can raise a storm of protest. We give the President more work than a man can do, more responsibility than a man should take, more pressure than a man can bear. We abuse him often and rarely praise him. We wear him out, use him up, eat him up. And with all this, Americans have a love for the President that goes beyond loyalty or party nationality; he is ours, and we exercise the right to destroy him.
    • America and Americans (1966)
  • In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.
  • The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.
    • New York Times (2 June 1969)
  • Syntax, my lad. It has been restored to the highest place in the republic.
    • When asked his reaction to John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address
    • Quoted by Atlantic magazine (November 1969)
  • If lowborn men could stand up to those born to rule, religion, government, the whole world would fall to pieces...[Merlin replies]...So it would; so it will...then the pieces will be put together again by such as destroyed it.
    • The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
  • Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.

Of Mice and Men (1937)Edit

  • Well, God knows he don't need any brains to buck barley bags. But don't you try to put nothing over, Milton. I got my eye on you.
    • George; "buck" here means to work at lifting and throwing the sacks of barley.
  • What the hell kind of bed you giving us, anyways. We don’t want no pants rabbits.
    • Ch. 2, p. 20; "pants rabbits" refers to fleas, lice or crabs
  • "Well, that glove's fulla vaseline."
    "Vaseline? What the hell for?"
    Well, I tell ya what — Curley says he's keepin' that hand soft for his wife."
    • Ch. 2, p. 29
  • His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.
    • Ch. 2, p. 36
  • Guy don't need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus' works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain't hardly ever a nice fella.
    • Ch. 3, p. 41
  • We could live offa the fatta the lan’.
    • Lennie, in Ch. 3, p. 57
  • Books ain't no good. A guy needs somebody — to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody.
    • Ch. 4, p. 72
  • They come, an' they quit an' go on; an' every damn one of 'em's got a little piece of land in his head. An' never a God damn one of 'em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever'body wants a little piece of lan'. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It's just in their head.
    • Ch. 4, p. 74
  • I seen too many guys with land in their head. They never get none under their hand.
    • Ch. 4, p. 75
  • You watch your place, nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy, it ain't even funny.
    • Curley's wife, Ch. 4, p. 80
  • You ain't worth a greased lack pin to ram you into hell.
    • Ch. 6, p. 101
  • I am a dog.
    • Ch. 2 p. 18

The Grapes of Wrath (1939)Edit

Main article: The Grapes of Wrath
  • Man, unlike anything organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.
    Ch. 14
  • How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?
  • Prayer never brought in no side-meat. Takes a shoat to bring in pork.

Cannery Row (1945)Edit

  • Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. [Opening sentence.]
  • "It has always seemed strange to me," said Doc. "The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success."

East of Eden (1952)Edit

Main article: East of Eden (novel)
This I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.
  • Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in art, in music, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
    And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning blows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
    And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for it is the one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
    Part 2, Ch. 13
  • Maybe that's the reason," Adam said slowly, feeling his way. "Maybe if I had loved him I would have been jealous of him. You were. Maybe-maybe love makes you suspicious and doubting. Is it true that when you love a woman you are never sure-never sure of her because you aren't sure of yourself? I can see it pretty clearly. I can see how you loved him and what it did to you. I did not love him. Maybe he loved me. He tested me and hurt me and punished me and finally he sent me out like a sacrifice, maybe to make up for something. But he did not love you, and so he had faith in you. Maybe — why, maybe it's a kind of reverse.
  • "What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster."
  • It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure on the world.
  • Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.
  • There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.
  • We all have that heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It's a breed — selected out by accident. And so we're overbrave and overfearful — we're kind and cruel as children. We're overfriendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We're oversentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic — and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key or the language of our culture? That's what we are, Cal — all of us. You aren't very different.
  • Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then — the glory — so that a cricket song sweetens the ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished…

Sweet Thursday (1954)Edit

  • It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.
    • Ch. 20
  • Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.
  • Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the Bastard Time.
  • No one knows how greatness comes to a man. It may lie in his blackness, sleeping, or it may lance into him like those driven fiery particles from outer space. These things, however, are known about greatness: need gives it life and puts it in action; it never comes without pain; it leaves a man changed, chastened, and exalted at the same time--he can never return to simplicity.
    • Ch. 36

The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)Edit

  • A little hope, even hopeless hope, never hurt anybody.
  • You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.
  • No one wants advice, only corroboration.
  • The misery stayed, not thought about but aching away, and sometimes I would have to ask myself, Why do I ache? Men can get used to anything, but it takes time.
  • A man is a lonely thing.
  • To be alive at all is to have scars.
  • "Ellen, only last night, asked, 'Daddy, when will we be rich?' But I did not say to her what I know: 'We will be rich soon, and you who handle poverty badly will handle riches equally badly.' And that is true. In poverty she is envious. In riches she may be a snob. Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms."
  • My dreams are the problems of the day stepped up to absurdity, a little like men dancing, wearing the horns and masks of animals.
  • It is odd how a man believes he can think better in a special place. I have such a place, have always had it, but I know it isn't thinking I do there, but feeling and experiencing and remembering. It's a safety place — everyone must have one, although I have never heard of a man tell of it.
  • Sometimes it's great fun to be silly, like children playing statues and dying of laughter. And sometimes being silly breaks the even pace and lets you get a new start.
  • No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.
  • When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you got two new people. Maybe that means — hell, it's complicated.
  • What a wonderful thing a woman is. I can admire what they do even if I don't understand why.
  • What a frightening thing is the human, a mass of gauges and dials and registers, and we can read only a few and those perhaps not accurately.

Part OneEdit

Chapter IIEdit

  • "I'm sorry," Ethan said. "You have taught me something -- maybe three things, rabbit footling mine. Three things will never be believed -- the true, the probable, and the logical. I know now where to get the money to start my fortune."

Chapter IIIEdit

  • It is strange how a man believes he can think better in a special place. I have such a place, have always had it, but I know it isn't thinking I do there, but feeling and experiencing and remembering. It's a safety place -- everyone must have one, although I never heard a man tell of it.
  • They successfully combined piracy and puritanism, which aren't so unlike when you come right down to it. Both had a strong dislike for opposition and both had a roving eye for other people's property.
  • No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.
  • Does anyone ever know even the outer fringe of another? What are you like in there? Mary -- do you hear? Who are you in there?

Chapter VEdit

  • A man who tells secrets or stories must think of who is hearing or reading, for a story has as many versions as it has readers.

Chapter VIEdit

  • To be alive at all is to have scars.

Chapter VIIIEdit

  • There's something desirable about anything you're used to as opposed to something you're not."

Part TwoEdit

Chapter XIEdit

  • All men are moral. Only their neighbors are not.

Chapter XIIIEdit

  • Maybe not having time to think is not having the wish to think.
  • Strength and success— they are above morality, above criticism. It seems then, that it is not what you do, but how you do it and what you call it.

Chapter XIVEdit

  • Not only the brave get killed, but the brave have a better chance of it.
  • Good God, what a mess of draggle-tail impulses a man is -- and a woman too, I guess.

Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1962)Edit

Speech at the Nobel Banquet (10 December 1962) (with links to audio file)
  • In my heart there may be doubt that I deserve the Nobel award over other men of letters whom I hold in respect and reverence — but there is no question of my pleasure and pride in having it for myself.
    It is customary for the recipient of this award to offer personal or scholarly comment on the nature and the direction of literature. At this particular time, however, I think it would be well to consider the high duties and the responsibilities of the makers of literature.
  • Such is the prestige of the Nobel award and of this place where I stand that I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practiced it through the ages.
  • Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches — nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair.
    Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.
    The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species.
  • Humanity has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion. My great predecessor, William Faulkner, speaking here, referred to it as a tragedy of universal fear so long sustained that there were no longer problems of the spirit, so that only the human heart in conflict with itself seemed worth writing about.
    Faulkner, more than most men, was aware of human strength as well as of human weakness. He knew that the understanding and the resolution of fear are a large part of the writer's reason for being.
    This is not new. The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.
  • The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit — for gallantry in defeat — for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.
    I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
  • With humanity's long proud history of standing firm against natural enemies, sometimes in the face of almost certain defeat and extinction, we would be cowardly and stupid to leave the field on the eve of our greatest potential victory.
  • We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God.
    Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life or death of the whole world — of all living things.

    The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand.
    Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have.
    Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope.
    So that today, St. John the apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the Word, and the Word is Man — and the Word is with Men.

Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)Edit

  • A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
    • Pt. 1
  • When I was very young and the urge to be someplace was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.... In other words, I don’t improve, in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable.
    • Pt. 1
  • A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for the promise of a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the house becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage. My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby.
    • Pt. 1
  • Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping.
    • Pt. 1
  • The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage.
    • Pt. 1
  • The techniques of opening conversation are universal. I knew long ago and rediscovered that the best way to attract attention, help, and conversation is to be lost. A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her in the stomach to clear the way, will cheerfully devote several hours of his time giving wrong directions to a total stranger who claims to be lost.
    • Pt. 1
  • When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find himself a good and sufficient reason for going.
    • Pt. 1
  • And now, our submarines are armed with mass murder, our silly, only way of deterring mass murder.
    • Pt. 1
  • Oh, we can populate the dark with horrors, even we who think ourselves informed and sure, believing nothing we cannot measure or weigh. I know beyond all doubt that the dark things crowding in on me either did not exist or were not dangerous to me, and still I was afraid.
    • Pt. 1
  • The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. In this, if in no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, and waste seems to be the index.
    • Pt. 2
  • The new American finds his challenge and his love in the traffic-choked streets, skies nested in smog, choking with the acids of industry, the screech of rubber and houses leashed in against one another while the townlets wither a time and die. This is not offered in criticism but only as observation. And I am sure that, as all pendulums reverse their swing, so eventually will the swollen cities rupture like dehiscent wombs and disperse their children back to the countryside.
    • Pt. 2
  • Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days. Mother’s cooking was with rare exceptions poor, that good unpasteurized milk touched only by flies and bits of manure crawled with bacteria, the healthy old-time life was riddled with aches, sudden death from unknown causes, and that sweet local speech I mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance. It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better.
    • Pt. 2
  • I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love.
    • Pt. 2
  • I guess this is why I hate governments. It is always the rule, the fine print, carried out by the fine print men. There's nothing to fight, no wall to hammer with frustrated fists.
    • Pt. 2
  • This monster of a land, this mightiest of nations, this spawn of the future, turns out to be the macrocosm of microcosm me.
    • Pt. 3
  • The Mojave is a big desert and a frightening one. It’s as though nature tested a man for endurance and constancy to prove whether he was good enough to get to California.
    • Pt. 3
  • There used to be a thing or a commodity we put great store by. It was called the People. Find out where the People have gone. I don’t mean the square-eyed toothpaste-and-hair-dye people or the new-car-or-bust people, or the success-and-coronary people. Maybe they never existed, but if there ever were the People, that’s the commodity the Declaration was talking about, and Mr. Lincoln.
    • Pt. 3
  • He wasn't involved with a race that could build a thing it had to escape from.
    • Pt. 3
  • I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.
    • Pt. 3
  • We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.
    • Pt. 3
  • Life could not change the sun or water the desert, so it changed itself.
    • Pt. 3
  • Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word. And there’s an opening convey of generalities. A Texan outside of Texas is a foreigner.
    • Pt. 4
  • Sectional football games have the glory and the despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners.
    • Pt. 4
  • A question is a trap, and an answer your foot in it.
    • Pt. 4
  • He doesn't belong to a race clever enough to split the atom but not clever enough to live at peace with itself.
    • Pt. 4

Writers at Work (1977)Edit

Fourth Series, edited by George Plimpton
  • A book is like a man — clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.
    • On Publishing
  • Give a critic an inch, he’ll write a play.
    • On Critics
  • Time is the only critic without ambition.
    • On Critics
  • It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth.
    • On Intent
  • I have owed you this letter for a very long time — but my fingers have avoided the pencil as though it were an old and poisoned tool.
    • Letter to his literary agent, found on his desk after his death in 1968

Quotes about John SteinbeckEdit

  • I can't read ten pages of Steinbeck without throwing up. I couldn't read the proletarian crap that came out in the '30s; again you had sentimentalism -- the poor oppressed workers.


DisputedEdit

  • Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.
    • As quoted in A Short History of Progress (2005) by Ronald Wright, p. 124; though this has since been cited as a direct quote by some, the remark may simply be a paraphrase, as no quotation marks appear around the statement and earlier publication of this phrasing have not been located.
    • This is perhaps an incorrect quote from "A Primer on the '30s." Esquire, June 1960: 85-93
"Except for the field organizers of strikes, who were pretty tough monkeys and devoted, most of the so-called Communists I met were middle-class, middle-aged people playing a game of dreams. I remember a woman in easy circumstances saying to another even more affluent: 'After the revolution even we will have more, won't we, dear?' Then there was another lover of proletarians who used to raise hell with Sunday picknickers on her property.
"I guess the trouble was that we didn't have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist. Maybe the Communists so closely questioned by the investigation committees were a danger to America, but the ones I knew—at least they claimed to be Communists—couldn't have disrupted a Sunday-school picnic. Besides they were too busy fighting among themselves."

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