Study Guide

The Winter of Our Discontent

by John Steinbeck

The Winter of Our Discontent Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

New Baytown

New Baytown. Harbor town on Long Island, New York, in which the novel is primarily set. New Baytown has deep connections to an old seafaring and whaling industry that had made the former fortune of the Hawley family, to which the protagonist, Ethan Allen Hawley, belongs. A Harvard graduate, Hawley works as a clerk at Marullo’s Fruit and Fancy Groceries, a store his family once owned—one of the old-fashioned, neighborhood stores, where he waits on people individually, makes sandwiches for a bank teller across the street, and extends credit on occasion.

Hawley lives in his family’s ancestral home, from which he walks two blocks every weekday down Elm Street that angles into High Street where he works. Nearby, the old Bay Hotel is being leveled, to be replaced by a Woolworth store, the old giving way to the new. New Baytown is a charming town with tree-lined sidewalks where Mr. Baker, the banker, walks daily from his home on Maple Street to the First National Bank, with unequal steps observing the old childhood superstition that stepping on the cracks will break his mother’s back.

Baker’s father and Ethan’s grandfather, Captain Hawley, had jointly owned the Belle-Adair, an exceptionally fine whaling ship that mysteriously burned—a fire Ethan suspects Baker’s father of instigating for the insurance money.

*Harvard University

*Harvard University. Cambridge,...

(The entire section is 597 words.)

The Winter of Our Discontent Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Fontenrose, Joseph. John Steinbeck: An Introduction and Interpretation. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1963. A very readable study that discusses Steinbeck’s use of myths and legendary material as structural elements in his plots. An influential work.

French, Warren. John Steinbeck. Boston: Twayne, 1961. Probably the best general treatment of Steinbeck’s work, and an example of the approach called New Criticism, which was prevalent in the 1960’s. Each major work is closely analyzed, with discussions centered around the meaning of the text.

Hughes, R. S. Beyond “The Red Pony”: A Reader’s Companion to Steinbeck’s Complete Short Stories. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1987. The first study dealing exclusively with the more than fifty works of Steinbeck’s short fiction. Particularly interesting discussions of Steinbeck’s uncollected works, stories he published in magazines during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Discusses the source of The Winter of Our Discontent.

Levant, Howard, The Novels of John Steinbeck: A Critical Study. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974. A constructionist approach, this study discusses the structural patterns of the novels. Suggests that Steinbeck’s intentions, his “blueprints,” were often at odds with the finished products and that his works reveal his inability effectively to fuse material with structure and theme with pattern. Interesting discussion of similarities between Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup of Gold (1929) with his last, The Winter of Our Discontent.

Lisca, Peter. The Wide World of John Steinbeck. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1958. First comprehensive study of Steinbeck; emphasizes his versatility.