Life: He was born in California, where he spent most of his life. When he was a boy, he often worked on the local farms during summer holidays, gaining knowledge of the farmers’ life. He attended University only for a short period and never graduated, being employed instead in a variety of jobs. He met the itinerant laborers who would appear in his books and saw how those who had money were buying small farms, unifying them in large estates and equipping them with modern machinery, with the result of making farmers and laborers lose their jobs. After the Wall Street crash, many farmers couldn't afford to pay back their loans to the banks, who took possession of their lands. Things were made worse by the fact that bad farming and unfavorable weather conditions had made the lands unproductive. Steinbeck, who was already left-wing, moved toward radicalism. After having written stories and newspaper articles for years without great success, he became famous in 1935 with the novel Tortilla Flat.
Tortilla Flat (1935) deals with the lives of a group of poor Mexican-Americans living in the South West. Of Mice and Men (1937) is about the relationship between two itinerant farm laborers. The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is his most important novel.
His most important essays and articles were written during the Second World War, when he was both a propaganda writer and a war correspondent. In 1962 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Themes and features: In his best novels Steinbeck deals with the way of life of labourers, farmers, outcasts, which is the theme that suits him best. He’s been defined a writer of social realism, as he deals with the life of people previously non-existent in American literature. He uses objective descriptions and dialogue to make his characters alive to the reader, and the language employed in dialogues is always some form of American dialect. Anyway, his prose can also be lyrical and poetical: in these passages the author conveys his personal point of view and tries to involve the reader emotionally. Steinbeck is never “impersonal”: it is clear what and who he stands for, that is the poor and the destitute he transforms in sort of epic heroes.