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Transcript of John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath
From late 1937 to late 1938 I researched and wrote arguably my most successful and highly reviewed work; The Grapes of Wrath. This novel depicts the life of migrant farm workers coming to work in California during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. My first hand experiences in the "Okie" camps helped me understand the struggles of these migrants, and how the close personal relationships between them helped them to survive.
World War Two
Throughout the spring and summer of 1943 I was asked to report on the happenings of WWII. The Air Force was the first group to approach me about covering the war. I swept across the United States to different airbases observing, learning, and living with air cadets as they prepared for deployment. After I finished my work at home, I traveled abroad to cover the war from Northern Africa and the Italian Coast for the "New York Herald Tribune."
Nobel Prize and Vietnam
In October 1962, I had the frightening honor of being chosen to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature for The Grapes of Wrath. While I was truly honored, my thoughts were that I could never do as good or courageous work again. Four short years later both of my sons were involved in the tragic conflict in Vietnam. Neither of my sons were killed or injured. I again served as a war correspondent, often in the path of danger. I flew in air strikes as well as reported on ground offensives. After leaving Vietnam I seriously injured my back in Tokyo.
Due to my injury in Japan I required the difficult procedure of spinal fusion. The surgery left me feeling lethargic, especially towards writing. I was plagued by mild strokes, and finally fell into a coma. On December 20, 1968, I passed away in New York City due to heart failure at the age of 66.
I was born in Salinas, California on February 27, 1902, to John Ernst Steinbeck and Olive Hamilton Steinbeck. I was their third child, and only son.
Moving to New York City for the First Time
At the age of 23, college life in and out of Stanford became stagnant to me. I decided to travel by freighter to New York City where I believed all writers went to succeed. On the freighter to New York I traveled through Panama. This tropical landscape was to be the scenery of my first professionally published work Cup of Gold.
I have been described as a difficult man to be around. I struggled through two marriages before finally finding balance in the third. Even though the characters in my novels are easy to connect with, I have always had a tremendously difficult time connecting to the "characters" in my own life, especially my first two wives and my sons.
I'm far too critical of my own work, and only seem to react to my negative reviews. I feel I did not deserve the Nobel Prize. My extreme reactions to criticism have often caused me bouts of illness and depression.
From visiting migrant camps in California, moving to New York and California several times, and my many vacations across Europe, I never strayed from adventure in my earlier years. Even as I aged I still managed to drive across the lower 48 while researching "Travels with Charley in Search of America," and write as a war-correspondent.
At the height of my creative ability and inspiration, I could write as many as 2-3,000 words a day. I worked relentlessly to complete novels and news stories throughout my career.
Alcohol and Tobacco
I abused alcohol and tobacco throughout my life. In times of depression my use would skyrocket, prolonging the fits of depression that followed. Using these drugs aggravated my negative traits while deteriorating my more admirable ones.
Traits and Characteristics
At sixteen I walked away from home to work on a ranch. The work was backbreaking, but I learned about money and how hard it can be to earn a living wage. The knowledge I gained on the ranch instilled a sense humility in me, along with fierce independence. I also knew that no one could push me around again. I returned to high school more dedicated to writing and to a career in literature.
The one early relationship that served as a reprieve from the otherwise dull life in California was was my friendship with Ed Ricketts. He worked in marine biology, an area of study in which I was extremely keen, and I ventured with Ed many times into the Monterey Bay in search of specimens. He was the model for many of my characters in Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, and In Dubious Battle. When Ed passed away, I stayed in Monterey to help settle his estate. The only thing I kept for myself was a microscope we used on our expeditions. He was my closest friend and kept me grounded in my life.
In Of Mice and Men, my style has been said to be straightforward, colloquial, and earnest. Critics have said that I was able to communicate complicated topics easily and without "gushing" over characters and their relationships, especially through the use of speech that real people use. This novel was written in a straightforward, descriptive and honest manner
In The Grapes of Wrath I wrote in detail to the extreme. The reader becomes involved in minute habits and the routines of the characters. Throughout the novel I assume a "stream-of-consciousness" style of writing. The lives of the desperately poor victims of the Dust Bowl are shown through the storms that ruined much of the mid-west, bank foreclosures and evictions, salesmen conning migrant workers and the general treatment of the poor as less than human.
The impact of my work is more incredible than I ever could have imagined. I had no idea that my work would one day be taught in countless high schools and universities. My work was always mediocre at best in my eyes, and it is now referenced as required reading for research on key events of the first half of the 20th century in the United States.
World Events that Affected Me as a Writer
1. The First major event that heavily influenced my writing was The Great Depression/Dust Bowl. A few of my novels are set in this time, most notably The Grapes of Wrath. I spent a lot of time with the people affected by this troubling time and I wrote novels that reflected what they struggled through.
2. During World War II I gained a lot as a writer. I focused on a journalistic style while reporting overseas, and learned about censoring myself for the morale of the people at home.
3. The Cold War offered me opportunities to grow as a writer. I was fortunate enough to be asked to visit The Soviet Union during the communist era to interview average citizens. I wrote down their stories to try and relate to the American people was it is like to live in a government so different from our own.
4. The final major world event that helped shape my writing was the conflict in Vietnam. In Vietnam I was still doing stories for newspapers, but these stories were more focused on the tragedy that was this war. How the uncertainty of the entire conflict was felt across the nation.
I always tried to be as honest in all of my work as possible, and I tried to reflect the stories as truthfully as I could whether I was writing non-fiction for a newspaper, or fictionalized accounts of rel events.