THE POET OF DEMOS: JOHN STEINBECK'S "THE GRAPES OF WRATH" AND MAJOR LATER FICTION

CARL H DEVASTO, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

This dissertation attempts to shed greater light on the later fiction of John Steinbeck. Although these novels (such as The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and The Winter of Our Discontent) have been examined by various critics, they have not been regarded as part of a literary pattern than can be observed throughout the author's major fiction. That pattern involves a mythical construct and a technique that might be labelled "demotic." An explication of that myth (Demos) and that style reveals a fresh contribution to literature that is largely American in nature. The novelist's work from The Grapes of Wrath on deals with this subject in modulating degrees. These later writings (my M.A. thesis deals with Steinbeck's earlier works and is attached here as an Appendix) figure forth a persona who is an amalgam of the traditional humble peasant, the toiling farmer, and Everyman. By drawing on these recognizable types, Steinbeck fashions a new figure for twentieth century readers--the universal commoner--who, in his very simplicity and painness, communicates a philosophy and a conception of human nature.^ The philosophy suggests that humankind is recurrently searching for a place where it truly can find simple freedom, harmony, and contentment. There is a natural creativity in all persons which needs only the proper conditions to spring vigorously to life. Yet humanity never finally finds that place, and the search continues. The conception of human nature suggests that people are not so complicated after all, and share a common earth-bound life of decency, practical resourcefulness, and joy in the natural world. The demotic character possesses a Thoreauvian connection with the biosphere and love of elemental making (whether farming the land or repairing an old automobile). The American facet also has to do with a radically democratic belief in the centrality of a free community that is in large measure self-sustaining.^ Thus, the intention of this novel-by-novel, essentially chronological reexamination of Steinbeck's mature fiction is to employ a critical standpoint; namely, Steinbeck's texts are artistically important when they work "demotically" in both theme and technique. The further the writer moves away from the subject and style of Demos, he less significant his fiction is esthetically. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

CARL H DEVASTO, "THE POET OF DEMOS: JOHN STEINBECK'S "THE GRAPES OF WRATH" AND MAJOR LATER FICTION" (1982). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI8326476.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI8326476

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