Tuesday, March 27, 2012

“Argue whether the works of Steinbeck are literature?”

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John Steinbeck was an American novelist and short-story writer of the early

100’s. His works were intriguing and very different for his time, making

room for criticism and ignorance. This essay will provide insights into

whether the works of Steinbeck can be classified as literature, including the

Write my Essay on “Argue whether the works of Steinbeck are literature?” for me

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definition of Literature and my opinions and thoughts as a literature reader

and student. It will also look into criticisms, comparisons, feminism and a

bit about the theme and underlying story, written within Steinbecks 1

novel Cannery Row.

The question of ‘what is literature’ is one that will never able to be

responded to with a definite answer. There are still huge steps being taken

and new ones being put into place. The possibilities of literature are

endless, with each new technological find it advances. Thus it is very

difficult to pin down exactly what it is that ensures text fits into the category

of literature. In classifying works by John Steinbeck as literature in this way

I am defining a work of literature as containing a message on the nature of

humanity. Works of literature are works that comment on the human

experience, yet there are other factors that also contribute to the

classification of a text.

Literature may be classified to a variety of systems, including language,

national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter. Works of

literature also act as cultural resources, speaking of the era and society out

of which they were created.

The worth of a text can be judged by its ability to capture the period of its

creation. A work if literature can also be seen to be one that acts as

symbolic resource. The relationship between it and the reader. Different

readers have different reactions to a text. Thus, different people and

groups of people value different texts for different reasons. One may refute

what might be highly valued by another.

The name is often applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose

distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the excellence of their

achievement. Sometimes referred to as ‘artistic licence’ by it’s author.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary says it is “ Writings whose value lies in the

beauty of form or emotional effect.” The 1th century critic Walter Pater

referred to “the matter of imaginative or artistic literature” as a “transcript,

not of mere fact in its infinitely varied forms.”

“The art of literature is not reducible to the words on the page, they are

there because of the craft of writing.” As an art, literature is the

organisation of words to give pleasure, through them it elevates and

transforms experiences, through them it functions in society as a continuing

symbolic criticism of values.

Though many would disagree, I do, mostly, classify John Steinbecks work as

literature. Many literary experts either ignore his work or write criticisms

exposing the defects of it.

Even though there were many things that could have been changed,

improved about his work, it was something unformal, more casual than

other stories of around that era. Making his books stand out having a new

age flare, which was obviously not a welcomed accomplishment at that

point in time.

Cannery Row brings together again, in the unchanging world of

literature(art), those qualities of life, rushed by the war, had passed never to

return, and for which Steinbeck is said to have felt a deep sentiment. In

this respect, the novel is firmly in the country life tradition.

The language used in Steinbecks work is simple and maybe his biggest

contribution as a writer, could turn out to be the exploration and

colonisation of the no-mans-land between intellectuals, non-intellectuals,

rational and the subrational. Critics also did not think he deserved the 16

Nobel Laureate in Literature. Which he won for his realistic and imaginative

writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social


Some critics even said that his work is only worth reading by

‘un-sophisticated readers’ or for ‘introductory courses in Literature’ to

prepare students to read more complex and mature works. But, how can it

possibly be unworthy of reading when millions read his work every year?

Movies and plays have even been made of his more famous books.

The central theme of most of Steinbeck’s work is the endless struggle of

people who depend for their livelihood upon the soil to sustain themselves.

He saw what others overlooked, dignity in the poor and the oppressed.

Although his characters were often trapped in a naturalistic world of unfair

social and economic forces, they are sympathetic and heroic human beings.

The story is told from an omniscient point of view. Steinbeck has managed

to not only capture one persons thoughts, but many leaving the reader all

knowing about the characters no matter which end of society they are at.

The book that was read by the year eleven English literature class was

Cannery Row, which I personally thought was a bit under our usual

standards, but was a good book for us to realise this and our potential. I felt

Cannery Row offers neither a detailed anatomy of society’s “mangled

craziness” nor a program for changing it. Rather, it brings into being a new

world to replace the one that is in the process of self destruction. I could

even classify it as just the introduction to another story. Something in

which not alot of readers enjoy.

The lingering effect of timelessness, achieved in part by the lack of

movement and the recurrence of specific descriptions and acts is also

something that may irritate some readers.

Steinbeck discovers that what normally might be called “thieves, rascals,

bums” may just as truly be described as “saints, angels, martyrs and holy

men.”(11) As for Doc, the central character, express it, the traits leading

to success in our society are frequently “greed, selfishness, meanness,”

whereas failure may be the result of “kindness, generosity, openness,

honesty, understanding and feeling.” Which in my opinion is very true.

Many readers do not realise messages writers are trying to get across, the

story beneath the story. One with a greater significance and meaning. The

obvious theme in Cannery Row, is one of Mac and the boys and their simple

saintly lives. The underlying theme consists of Doc and his realisation of, in

a way, two ‘sub-worlds’ of Cannery Row and the tide pool.

Steinbeck seems to have represented Doc to make a comparison between

our civilised lives to a miniature universe in the natural world of the pool.

Imitating the life and struggle there. Helping to represent Steinbecks

underlying theme, is a quote from the Bible, “Our Father who art in

Heaven”, only, he has manipulated it to fit in with his story, “Our Father who

art in Nature.”

In Greek plays, there always seems to be a god, who secretly resides among

ordinary mortals. Well, in Cannery Row, this Greek play has some what been

repeated, only a modernised version with the God-like figure being Doc. He

is someone who comes from the upper side of society, un-natural

side-cultured, noble, educated. For this reason the ordinary people seem to

in a way worship him, in return for his helpfulness and kindness. But in

reality, Doc is in search of truths, of his own God if you like?

In terms of feminism, Cannery Row is a typical male written novel. Not once

in the story does Steinbeck portray women and men as equals. Although,

this was very typical of novels based around this era. Women do not play a

significant part in Cannery Row, they are more like shadows or playing

supporting roles rather than actual characters. The images of women in this

novel also are few and far apart. Dora Flood, the Bear Flag Restaurant owner

is portrayed as the wise old woman. Someone who is like the Row’s social

glue. No-one really likes her but because of the contributions she makes to

society, she seems to be respected. Also Dora’s profession is undermining

to women, making out that exploiting women is a good thing would be

unheard of now-a-days.

In comparison to Shakespear, Steinbeck was not as advanced and

knowledgable towards the actual events that were taking place around him,

who people really were. He only gave the idealistic view to his readers.

Unlike Shakespear who was able to not only give the point of view from a

male perspective but compose women not only as an object but as their

own person, with their own feelings, thoughts and emotions, which amounts

to the complex creature that is woman.

In conclusion, this essay has discussed a few different aspects of the novel

Cannery Row and John Steinbeck as a writer. Exploring the definition of

Literature and my opinions and thoughts as a literature reader and student.

It also mentioned criticisms towards Steinbeck, comparisons, and

underlying theme of Cannery Row.

By Elise Wilson

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