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

By Barbara A. Heavilin | Go to book overview

Preface

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," for Donald R. Noble's 1993 T he 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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