The Winter of Our Discontent

by John Steinbeck

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Winter of our Discontent is John Steinbeck's last novel, taking its title from the eponymous line in Glouchester's most famous soliloquy in Shakespeare's play Richard III. It centers around the theme of a futile wait for a transformation into a hero or savior that would restore a family's glory, ironically reinterpreting the Shakespearean trope.

Ethan Hawley, the protagonist, is stuck mentally reliving his family's glorious past while relegated in the present into a grocery clerk role. Pressures placed on Ethan by his family compel him to devise shady moneymaking strategies founded on a confused sense of moral relativism. When each of his plans fail, he is ironically still rewarded for inadvertently creating the appearance of good will. Ultimately, his conscience renders him unable to accept the praise of his family. Knowing that he is a failed moral figure, yet part of a larger narrative, he resolves to raise his daughter well so that she might depart from the family's entrenched narrative of lost wealth, failure, and redemption.

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