The Critical Response to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

The Critical Response to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

The Critical Response to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

The Critical Response to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

Synopsis

When it was initially published in 1939, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath instantly became a bestseller. Like many phenomenally popular works, it has elicited a wide range of critical responses. Some critics have attacked Steinbeck for his alleged sentimentalism, while others have praised him for writing a great American epic. While modern critics have generally responded positively toward his novel, they have done so at a time when its place in the American literary canon is increasingly uncertain. Through reviews, previously published essays, and original material, this volume records the critical reception of The Grapes of Wrath up to the recent editions of the 1990s. The volume additionally includes a chronology, bibliography, and extensive introductory essay.

Excerpt

This book on the critical response to John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath is divided into two parts, with the first part looking back on the first fifty years, 1939-1989 and the second looking forward to a new millennium. The rationale for such an arrangement is to an extent logistical and logical and to another extent hopeful. That is, the volume must have divisions of some kind, and, since the occasion of the anniversary of this novel's first fifty years received much deserved celebration--with a major conference, new editions, critical attention, and recognition as one of the top ten of the hundred best novels of the century list--the end of the inclusive years 1939-1989 seems an appropriate dividing point.

There is also a rationale for devoting the second part of the book to the nineties, looking forward to a new millennium. For the most part, the critical responses of Steinbeck scholars have included an apologia as a nod of recognition to those critics who denigrate him and his fiction. Jackson J. Benson, for example, writes the opening chapter, entitled John Steinbeck: The Favorite Author We Love to Hate, forDonald R. Noble's 1993 The Steinbeck Question: New Essays in Criticism.

Critics in the later nineties, though, seem to be breaking free from such an oxymoronic mix of emotive and unsure responses to the Steinbeck aesthetic. To illustrate, in Parallel Expeditions: Charles Darwin and the Art of John Steinbeck,Brian E. Railsback best epitomizes these new critics in his depiction of the "vindictive style" of Leslie Fiedler as he assaulted and damned Steinbeck "at an international conference, 'The Grapes of Wrath, 1939-1989: An Interdisciplinary Forum,' held at San Jose State University in California." Neither angry nor defensive, Railsback points out that Fiedler "had little new to say" and that he seemed "somewhat confused." After a brief overview of other chief . . .

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