The Winter of Our Discontent (Paperback)
We’re all familiar with the Steinbeck classics we were forced to read in high school English class; The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, and yet, I think one of Steinbeck's most underrated and mature novels is the last one he wrote before his death in 1968, The Winter Of Our Discontent.
Steinbeck is a master of capturing the turmoil of a man’s soul as he faces hardship and change, this book is no different. The dialogue is funny and realistic, while the characters are complex and relatable. Ethan, the main character, married and a father of two, owns a small grocery store in a classic 1960’s American town. Ethan is smart and witty, he loves his kids and wife but Ethan also feels a deep sense of failure in himself, his accomplishments, and pines for more in his life. The plot continues on in a somewhat simple way, but the deeper themes of morality and what it means to be successful in a world of monetary wealth lurk on, and become more potent and tangible as you build a deep fondness for the characters. This story is heartwarming and heartbreaking, it’s full of the richness of the human condition, both beauty and pain, and it gives ample weight to what a big responsibility assigning meaning to your life is. A quick read for this fall month that will leave you thinking about your own life and relationships long after you put it down, as good literature should. At least it did that for me.
-Caroline— From Opinionated October Staff Picks
The final novel of one of America’s most beloved writers—a tale of degeneration, corruption, and spiritual crisis
A Penguin Classic
In awarding John Steinbeck the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Nobel committee stated that with The Winter of Our Discontent, he had “resumed his position as an independent expounder of the truth, with an unbiased instinct for what is genuinely American.” Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of Steinbeck’s last novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With Ethan no longer a member of Long Island’s aristocratic class, his wife is restless, and his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards. Set in Steinbeck’s contemporary 1960 America, the novel explores the tenuous line between private and public honesty, and today ranks alongside his most acclaimed works of penetrating insight into the American condition. This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction and notes by leading Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
About the Author
John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).
After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.
Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942).Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright(1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.
The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961),Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata!(1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures.
Susan Shillinglaw is a professor of English San Jose State University. She is the author of On Reading the Grapes of Wrathand Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage.
By the Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature