John Steinbeck: Development And Portrayal Of His Characters
John Steinbeck: Development and Portrayal of His Characters
“And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the
back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied.
He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again.
Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand and he lay without quivering.
George shivered and looked at the gun and then he threw it from him, back up on the bank,
near the pile of old ashes.” This excerpt from and the climax of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and
Men is one which demonstrates the complexity and power of a moral and social force over an
ordinary man. Throughout Steinbeck’s novels and stories, he generally portrayed
working-class characters who were controlled or manipulated by forces beyond their
understanding or control. He isn’t saying that an ordinary person does not have a chance
but is stating that people or rather the lives of people can be influenced, thereby
shaping the outcome !
of their life whether for the better or the worse, by circumstances over which they have
limited knowledge or control. For example in Cannery Row an enemy that Steinbeck attacks
is a destructive force, one which manipulates people into acting a certain way to attain a
sense of security by disregarding feelings for others (French 120). By analyzing
Steinbeck’s writing style and influences on it, forces and themes present in his writing,
and the portrayal of characters in his stories, one can understand how and in what ways
John Steinbeck represents his characters as common people who are driven by forces which
they cannot comprehend.
First, let’s look at Steinbeck and any influences on him and his writing style and as a
consequence, how they contribute to the concept that his characters are manipulated by
pressures which they do not understand or are able to control. Steinbeck was positively
fond of people, more than any other writers were and especially fond of men who work for
bread in the open air in the fields or mountains (Beach 1). He was interested in people
from the beginning, long before he had any theory to account for their ways (Beach 1).
With this, Steinbeck chose novel writing as a career, despite his family’s insistence for
a more prosaic career (Millichap 3153). This traumatic rejection of middle-class values
would be an important factor in shaping his fiction (Millichap 3153). He grew up in a
frustrated modern America and witnessed the most notable failure of the American dream in
the Great Depression (Millichap 3152). During this decadent period, many of Steinbeck’s
fered detailed accounts of social problems, particularly the plight of migrant
agricultural workers in California’s fertile valley (Millichap 3157). From this idea the
design for The Grapes of Wrath emerged, which follows one family from Oklahoma and the
Dust Bowl to California in search of a better life (Millichap 3158). Of Mice and Men also
shows the persistence of the American dream and the tragedy of its failure (Millichap