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Other essays examine Steinbeck’s legacy in the work of Bruce Springsteen, , or of Steinbeck’s powerful defense of playwright Arthur Miller in 1957 against the charges of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), or of the political backdrop of the Cold War more generally .
Even as early as the book’s publication in 1966, Steinbeck recognized the dangers of America’s general loss of family values, our over-obsession with entertainment and sex, and how these negative distractions have begun to deter our young people from caring at all about their country.
I can’t imagine how the man would respond were he to see how distracted our people (the children and grand children of those young people from ’66) are today!
While less productive in the fifties, that decade did see the appearance of one of Steinbeck’s most successful and enduring novels, (1962), an effort to come to grips with his growing sense of alienation resulting from the pace of post-war change.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in late 1962, over the lamentable protestations of some American critics, and then re-affirmed his deep attachment to the nation a few years later in a collection of essays on aspects of national life and character, (1966).
Also absent, among the essayists themselves, are representatives of an older and still active generation of groundbreaking Steinbeck scholars, including Robert De Mott, and some leading representatives of the current generation, including Susan Shillinglaw and Kevin Hearle, whose perspectives on the politics of race and place would have augmented the volume nicely.
Nonetheless, for all the anthology’s voids, it does achieve the editors’ and contributors’ goal of illuminating the complexities of Steinbeck’s political thought and underscoring the enduring contributions of his work.He visited Vietnam from December 1966 to May 1967, where one of his two sons was serving, and wrote a series of dispatches, supportive of LBJ’s policies and critical of anti-war protests, though he would change his position on the war before he died.In short, Steinbeck’s writings serve as a remarkable guide through the controversies and complications that marked American politics and culture in the middle third of the twentieth century.The anthology moves us toward a fuller consideration of Steinbeck’s centrality to at least the first part of this mid-twentieth-century period.Not surprisingly, Steinbeck’s work in the 1930s and 1940s gets most of the contributors’ attention, including co-editor Zirakzadeh’s provocative discussion of Steinbeck as a “revolutionary conservative or a conservative revolutionary,” Donna Kornhaber’s treatment of politics and Steinbeck’s playwriting, Adrienne Akins Warfeld’s examination of Steinbeck’s Mexican works from the 1940s, Charles Williams’ insightful exploration of Steinbeck’s “group man” theory in as novel, film, and inspiration for Bruce Springsteen, and Mimi R. Meredith’s “Patriotic Ironies,” on Steinbeck’s wartime service.It is a nicely edited and integrated set of explorations of the nuances and complications of Steinbeck’s political thought and a quite effective response to the generations of critics who have found Steinbeck’s work too popular, heroic, sentimental, moralistic, and too didactic.Indeed, whether the tensions in Steinbeck’s four decades’ of writing are between the group man and the individual, or traditionalism and liberalism, communism and capitalism, or alienation and affirmation (from the nation), it is these very sets of seeming contradictions and their accompanying ambiguities and consequent ambivalence that characterize Steinbeck’s literary work and political thought and help account for his continuing relevance.In placing Steinbeck’s “productive ambivalence” (9) at center stage, this companion to the intersections of Steinbeck’s literary and political journeys wisely nudges us toward a fuller appreciation of the writer and his work. See Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten’s collection John Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, (Viking, 1975; Penguin, 1989) and Jackson Benson’s finely detailed biography, John Steinbeck, Writer (New York: Penguin, 1990, and Viking, 1984).__________ David Wrobel holds the Merrick Chair in Western American History at the University of Oklahoma.His writings have generally covered the early part of 20th century America, its culture, its history, and its problems, and this particular collection of essays is no different, though he does focus on the present more than the past.In , Steinbeck records his skepticism about America and her future, a skepticism grounded in love that doesn’t take away from his patriotism but rather adds to it.