|Inside the National Steinbeck Center|
When I first read The Grapes of Wrath, the Depression-era novel by John Steinbeck, I became a fan. When I read the preface to the novel which quoted from his speech at the Nobel-prize banquet, he ascended the pedestal where I keep my literary idols: Ghalib, Shakespeare, Dickens, Marquez, Llosa ...
|John Steinbeck accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature 1962|
This is what he had to say, which struck a chord with me:
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.
Furthermore, 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.
Too much writing nowadays is the cookie-cutter MFA variety, or rehashing a formula in chase of bestseller lists. Honest writing, writing that tussles with life and living, is getting rare. I wasn't surprised therefore, when on my recent California vacation I'd mention my eagerness to visit the Steinbeck Center, and be greeted with blank looks - several Americans seem unaware of their Nobel laureate, others dismissed him as a 'Depression-era writer'; read moth-ridden and un-cool.
|When The Grapes of Wrath was first published, its negative portrayal of a capitalistic society led to several burnings of the book and alternate renditions such as 'Grapes of Gladness' and 'The Plums of Plenty'|
And yet, considering the current state of the US, couldn't the Americans do with a re-reading of John Steinbeck? At a time of 'Occupy Wall Street', increasing income inequality, and stagnant economic growth, Steinbeck is as relevant today.
|'Of Mice and Men' is one of my favourite books. It is a key text in the UK for English Literature GCSE|
|'Travels with Charley' is a recountal of Steinbeck's road trip with his poodle Charley across the US as he recorded the changing mores of his homeland|
I'd like to end this post with the final words from Steinbeck's Nobel acceptance speech - nothing could be more appropriate.
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.