Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The radical literary tradition of the 1930‟s inspired many American authors to become more concerned with the struggle of the proletariat. John Steinbeck is one of these authors. Steinbeck‟s novels throughout the 1930‟s and 1940‟s display a lack of agreement with the common Communist principles being portrayed by other radical novelists, but also a definite alignment with several more basic Marxist principles. The core of his radical philosophy comes in the form of his interest in group-man or the phalanx. An interest that is rather uncommon for the period, as most radical novelists were more concerned with illustrating the solitary nature of the proletarian worker. Over the course of his career this philosophy evolves, as can be illustrated through an analysis of In Dubious Battle, The Grapes of Wrath, and Cannery Row. In Dubious Battle is highly critical of Communist labor organizers, and sets Steinbeck apart form the radical tradition by questioning rather than supporting their motivation. The labor organizers manipulate the phalanx in this novel, and Steinbeck leaves the reader with the impression that the group-man is being corrupted. The Grapes of Wrath is also a socially motivated novel, with an abundance of Marxist undertones, but most importantly the novel provides Steinbeck with a better medium within which he can further examine the phalanx. Throughout this novel Steinbeck remains separate from other propagandists, as he supports his own agenda rather than that of the Party. Steinbeck‟s communal exploration comes to fruition in Cannery Row. While the novel has received a relatively small amount of critical attention due to the common presumption that Steinbeck intended the work to be a diversion from war, the characters of Cannery Row provide Steinbeck with the ultimate vehicle to illustrate the importance of the phalanx. Together these novels represent the evolution of Steinbeck‟s radical philosophy, particularly as it pertains to his vision of communal existence. While this vision of collectivity is what aligns Steinbeck with the most basic of Marxist principles, the mysticism he surrounds it with is what serves to set him apart from the more utilitarian communist appreciation of the phalanx. This argument will come largely in the form of analysis of Steinbeck‟s mouthpieces, which are characters in the novels that illustrate Steinbeck‟s philosophy either through speech or action. The conclusion of the analysis will show that Steinbeck is definitely a radical novelist, even though he is sometimes at odds with the tenets of the greater radical tradition.
Jasinski, Shawn, "John Steinbeck As a Radical Novelist" (2008). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 117.