What did John Steinbeck contribute to literature?

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Steinbeck made many contributions to American literature. Having grown up in the American West, he was familiar with its landscape and its people. Many of his books, such as Of Mice and Men, contain vivid descriptions of the land in the American West. These descriptions reveal the beauty of...

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Steinbeck made many contributions to American literature. Having grown up in the American West, he was familiar with its landscape and its people. Many of his books, such as Of Mice and Men, contain vivid descriptions of the land in the American West. These descriptions reveal the beauty of the western land.

In addition, his descriptions of the people who populate the West expand our ideas of who lives there. For example, the characters in Tortilla Flat include Latinos (see the paper by George below). His characters include the dispossessed, such as the migrant workers George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men and the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck relates their natural way of speaking, including their diction and idioms, and portrays them with sympathy. While his work is realistic, it is also poetic, and he describes the people he writes about with a sense of ennobling lyricism. Therefore, while his work is part of realism, it is also poetic and a paean to the poor and dispossessed.

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Steinbeck was the Dickens of his day. He was not afraid to demonstrate the seedy underbelly of the American Dream. His books are raw, both in terms of emotion and language. There is a realism there can is inimitable, but at the same time a depth that goes far beyond.
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Steinbeck brought attention to a population of lower and middle class people in California with many of his works, from Tortilla Flats to Of Mice and Men and he dramatized the human plight of living without money or means in a world where money and means go so far in defining our social position and access to ease and happiness.

Steinbeck also updated our "national mythology" by giving us stories of the darker side of the American dream - where everyone, even corporations like those taking over the farms in The Grapes of Wrath, have a right to ownership without apparent limit.

A socially conscious and rather political writer, Steinbeck's best works managed to subsume politics in the deeper subjects of human drama, the challenges of finding justice and keeping friendship.

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In my mind, I think that Steinbeck's greatest contribution is his absorption of the voice of the dispossessed in his work.  At a time when America's struggles needed to be articulated, Steinbeck was able to give voice to what it meant to struggle in an America that was struggling economically, socially, and politically.  In this light, Steinbeck was honest about where America was and how America should be seen.  When poverty was something that many Americans internalized as a sign of personal failure or as some type of shortcoming in the life that believed in the "gospel of wealth," Steinbeck wrote about characters and predicaments that saw wealth as something that was manipulated by the hands of the rich over the shoulders of the poor.  In stressing the ideas of solidarity and fully grasping what it means to work as a community in order to overcome material hardship, Steinbeck's greatest value is able to give a vision of what should be over what is.

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