John Steinbeck

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What are the common themes used in John Steinbeck's novels?

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To reduce the complexity of John Steinbeck to social commentary would be a mistake. As previous answers have already mentioned, Steinbeck explored numerous themes on the human condition, including friendship, desire, relationship to the land, alienation, etc... That said, since no other answers have addressed this yet, I will mention that there is indeed a strong current of social/political commentary in his work.

The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most obvious example. Disenfranchised farmers travel across the country. In a world moving toward more industrialized agriculture, the society doesn't appear to have any interest in supporting the people these changes displace. This leads many characters, including Tom Joad, to reconsider the values of human and social relationships. The image of the turtle struggling to cross the road in chapter 3 is just one symbolic example of Steinbeck's assertion that people must help one another rather than pursuing only their own interests. This advocates a more collectivist, and perhaps even socialistic form of society.

An additional example would be Steinbeck's treatment of marginalized groups of people in Cannery Row. Both Chinese immigrants and prostitutes face unfair criticism due to their background and line of work. While these are some of the kindest and hardest-working characters in the book, the society does not always treat them as such.

These are just two of many examples of Steinbeck's continuing focus on social justice in his novels. He had a lifelong passion for giving voice to people society treated unfairly. This is perhaps a key them of his work that I might add to what has already been written.

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Theme Statements for Of Mice and Men

Friendship:  In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck shows that friendship is important in preventing loneliness by providing a purpose in life and a sense of companionship.

Loneliness:  In Of Mice and Men , Steinbeck shows that...

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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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