Home / A&E / Books / The Great American Novelist

The Great American Novelist

Steinbeck’s Chronicle of Conscience

Mar. 21, 2013
Google plus Linkedin Pinterest
John Steinbeck is familiar to film buffs for the raft of Hollywood movies based on his novels, including such classics as The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden; and many of us encountered Steinbeck in a high school or college literature course. Mostly we haven’t given him enough thought, but novelist Paul McComas has reflected often on Steinbeck. “His is the timeless message of extending yourself for others—particularly ‘the least of these,’ the least fortunate,” he says. “Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us.’ For Steinbeck, that meant we must work tirelessly—and endlessly—on their behalf.”

At a presentation sponsored by the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking, McComas will give a presentation consisting of commentary and dramatic readings from four of Steinbeck’s novels as well as his 1962 travelogue, Travels with Charley: In Search of America. He will also pull out a guitar and perform Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a song inspired by Steinbeck’s classic dramatization of Midwest farmers driven from their land during the Great Depression in The Grapes of Wrath.

Steinbeck was one of the nation’s towering literary giants in an epoch when authors strove to write “the Great American Novel” and many people actually read them, searching for a sense of what it meant to be American. “Steinbeck’s style was chameleonic and adapted itself to the material,” McComas says. “He made [the] personal [into the] political and the political into the personal. He led with his characters. He was the foremost American chronicler of the middle section of the 20th century—from the Great Depression through the Civil Rights Movement.”

Steinbeck’s last major work, Travels with Charley, drew from his eight-month road trip across the U.S., traveling counter-clockwise from the East Coast to the South, where he witnessed brutal, undisguised racism. “This presentation is about pulling Steinbeck off the shelf,” McComas says. “We just had an election where a candidate said, “I don’t care about the poor,’ and went on to become his party’s nominee for president. It suggests that we need Steinbeck in our day and age—maybe more than ever.”

The presentation will be held Monday, March 25, at 7 p.m., Marquette University Alumni Memorial Union, Ballroom D, 1442 W. Wisconsin Ave. Admission is free.


Now that controversial strategist Steve Bannon has left his administration, will Donald Trump begin to pivot to the center?

Getting poll results. Please wait...