Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In March, 1940, John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts began serious preparation for a six-week biological expedition to the Gulf of California, which they designate by its earlier name, the Sea of Cortez. Ricketts, the owner of the small Pacific Biological Laboratories in Monterey, California, had long been interested in the invertebrate marine life of the California coast. Steinbeck’s best friend for eighteen years, he exerted a profound influence on the novelist’s thought and became the model for Doc in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (1945). Steinbeck, who financed the voyage, had long shared his friend’s interest in marine life. Tired of the adulation and controversy that followed publication of The Grapes of Wrath (1939), he viewed the expedition as a peaceful and revitalizing interlude in the turbulent career of a writer. The expedition departed from Monterey on March 11, 1940, and returned on April 20; actual exploration in the gulf occurred from March 17 through April 12. Sea of Cortez, a genuine collaboration by the two explorers, consists of a narrative account of the expedition from its preparation stages until the beginning of the homeward voyage on April 13, along with an annotated scientific catalog of species taken.

Ricketts viewed the gulf expedition as an extension of his previous study of invertebrates along the California coastline, which culminated in the publication of his and Jack Calvin’s Between Pacific Tides (1939). The expedition was designed to study the invertebrate marine life of the gulf’s...

(The entire section is 642 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Astro, Richard. John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts: The Shaping of a Novelist, 1973.

Benson, Jackson J. The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer, 1984.

Ferrell, Keith. John Steinbeck: The Voice of the Land, 1986.

Fontenrose, Joseph. John Steinbeck: An Introduction and Interpretation, 1963.