Travels With Charley Steinbeck Essay

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He ignored the great cities except in glimpses and if he wrote of other places, it was likely to be the New England village of Winter of Our Discontent or the Northwest orchards of In Dubious Battle.In the 1960's his novels unintentionally alert us to the dangers that persistence in the stereotyped thinking derived from the privations endured during the Depression and World War II present in coping with the problems of an age of affluence in which economic momentum can be maintained only by a program of controlled waste that is not destructive of human resources.Steinbeck had trouble during the last two decades—as The Winter of Our Discontent especially suggests—because he still saw human problems in the currently irrelevant terms of clashes between exploiter and victim, the ignoble and the noble.That did not make him lapse into quietism, or leave him indifferent to social reform.Far from it: compassion and concern lie on the direct route too.The trouble with the Stevensonians during an age of affluence like the 1960's is that they were rarely able to convert their nebulous vision of a better society into meaningful specifics.They were driven into trying to see in the pacification of the Mekong Delta the restoration of Candide's garden. 297) Steinbeck's political views became increasingly irrelevant, because—like many others of his liberal persuasion—he insisted on seeing the present in terms of the past.Steinbeck had frozen into a political position that in the 1930's enabled him to avoid fashionable error and made him the champion of common sense, but that in the 1960's isolated him from the problems of affluence.(This judgment is grounded in the idea that in the 1930's the nation's problems were primarily those of underproduction and physical survival, but that in the 1960's—although there are still a sizable number of "disadvantaged" persons in the society—the problems were principally those of overproduction and spiritual disenchantment.) What is most significant is how closely the thinking of the man who, regardless of critical demurrers, was one of the most distinguished twentieth-century American writers mirrored that of Lyndon Johnson, whose once awe-inspiring reputation as a political operator crumbled because of his inability to communicate with most people under forty.Literary experts of high standing have either ignored Steinbeck or, in critical books and journals of limited circulation, have exposed his defects.Edmund Wilson, Alfred Kazin, and Maxwell Geismar are three important critics, for example, who have detailed Steinbeck's imperfections….


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