Steinbeck's Personal Life

Steinbeck was the third of four children and the only son born to John Ernst and Olive Hamilton Steinbeck. His father was County Treasurer and his mother, a former schoolteacher. John graduated from Salinas High School in 1919 and he attended classes at Stanford University, leaving in 1925 without a degree. He was variously employed as a sales clerk, farm laborer, ranch hand and factory worker. In 1925, he traveled by freight from Los Angeles to New York, where he was a construction worker.

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California. Steinbeck attended the local high school and worked on farms and ranches during his vacations. To finance his education, he held many jobs and sometimes dropped out of college for whole quarters. Between 1920 and 1926, he studied marine biology at Stanford University, but did not take a degree-he always planned to be a writer. Several of his early poems and short stories appeared in university publications. After spending a short time as a laborer on the construction of Madison Square Garden in New York City and reporter for the American, Steinbeck returned to California. While writing, Steinbeck took odd jobs. He was apprenticehood-carrier, apprentice painter, caretaker of an estate, surveyor, and fruit-picker.

Steinbeck married Carol Henning in 1930 and lived with her in Pacific Grove, California. He spent much of his time in Monterey with his friend, Ricketts, at his Cannery Row laboratory, an experience which inspired his popular 1945 novel, Cannery Row. In 1943, Steinbeck married his second wife, Gwyndolyn Conger, with whom he had two children. 1948 was a particularly bad year for Steinbeck: Ricketts died, and Gwyndolyn left him. However, he found happiness in his 1950 marriage to Elaine Scott, with whom he lived in New York City. Two years later, he published the highly controversial East of Eden, the novel he called "the big one," set in the California Salinas Valley.

Steinbeck's later writings were comparatively slight works, but he did make several notable attempts to reassert his stature as a major novelist: Burning Bright (1950), East of Eden (1952), and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961). However, none of these works equaled the critical reputation of his earlier novels. Steinbeck's reputation is dependent primarily on the naturalistic, proletarian-themed novels that he wrote during the Depression. It is in these works that Steinbeck is most effective at building rich, symbolic structures and conveying the archetypal qualities of his characters. Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962, and died in New York City in 1988.