illustrated portrait of American author John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

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John Steinbeck states, "In the end is the word, and the word is man, and the word is with man" in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. What does this mean?

This seems like something a vital point to Steinbeck's thoughts on politics and beliefs, so I think this will really help me with my assignment.

The full paragraph says,

Having taken God-like 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, saint John the Apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the word, and the word is man, and the word is with man.

Expert Answers

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Steinbeck appears to be saying that with great power comes great responsibility. Modern man has arrogated to himself the power that was previously believed to reside only with God. Unfortunately, he hasn't got around to recognizing the enormous responsibilities that go with the exercise of such power. As such, man is the greatest threat to the stability of our world. As well as the possession of nuclear weapons, man has the capacity to destroy the world through the disruption of its delicate ecological balance.

Yet for all this, man remains the world's only hope. He has it within himself to be the world's savior or its destroyer. This is the stark existential choice which Steinbeck presents to his audience. According to Steinbeck's secular humanist worldview, we can expect no transcendent law-giver to come down to earth and save us; only we can do this.

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It seems to me that the particular quote offered is one whereby Steinbeck reverts to his sentimentality and his unabashed hope for humanity.  I think that Steinbeck wants to move away from a realm where faith in the external salvation is so evident.  Rather, he wishes for human beings to be the miracle that is so sought.  The very idea that he is able to speak of the creative and destructive powers that seem to simultaneously exist within human beings is a part of this.  In the idea that "the word is 'man," Steinbeck seems to suggest that modernity is defined by human freedom and the more that writers can articulate this condition, the better the chance that it will be explored and ruminated upon in a manner where there can be a hope to transform society.  It seems that Steinbeck is very much motivated with the idea that there can be a change in the world, and human beings can initiate such transformation.  This becomes critical in reading Steinbeck's works and would make sense that this is something that drives his Nobel Acceptance Speech.

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