John Steinbeck: A Unique Position In American Literature

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John Ernest Steinbeck (1902 – 68) is one of the greatest American writers in the twentieth century and he is regarded as "quintessential American writer and his reputation extends worldwide" (Schultz and Li vii). He is "both a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Nobel Prize laureate" (Noble 3). In spite of being a modern writer and a contemporary of the literary giants such as Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner; Steinbeck was able to establish a unique position in American literature. The reason behind his success in establishing and maintaining such unique position is his fascination with literature; he "loved to write, because he was addicted to it …. He loved the words, the shape, the sound, the history of meaning; he delighted…show more content…
This fierce independence is one of his most salient features as a writer. (2-3) Let's stop at the point which states "his prose is shaped by myth" and trace the influence of mythology on Steinbeck's life. John Steinbeck belongs to a bookish family and his fascination with literature started with the adventure tales read to him by his parents and older sisters. In his childhood, John Steinbeck was introduced to the works of great writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Dumas, and Sir Walter Scott in addition to Pilgrim's Process, Paradise Lost and the Bible (Benson 20).
However, the tales which had the strongest influence on the young Steinbeck were myths and legends. Steinbeck "grew up in the first decade of the twentieth century, and he was among the first generation of American children immersed in the Arthurian legend from childhood" (Mathias 25). Since his visit to his aunt in the summer of 1912, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur became Steinbeck's lifelong fascination. Steinbeck recounts that accident as
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I started at the black print with hatred and then gradually the pages opened and let me in. The magic happened. The Bible and Shakespeare and Pilgrim's Progress belonged to everyone. But this was mine – secretly mine. It was a cut version of the Caxton "Morte d'Arthur" of Thomas Malory. I loved the old spelling of the words – and the words no longer used. Perhaps a passionate love for English language opened to me from this one book. (qtd. in Benson 21) According to Jackson Benson, Le Morte d'Arthur was "the initial stimulus for Steinbeck's becoming a reader. It provoked his first interest in language, and it generated a lifelong interest in Malory" (20). Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur had a strong influence on Steinbeck to the extent that he recreated the Arthurian tales in a play with his sister Mary as he used to go with her to the fields with lath swords and cardboard helmets to search for the Holy Grail and they used the archaic English words as their own secret language (Benson 20). In his letter to Mrs. Alicia Patterson Guggenheim, Steinbeck tells about his adventures with his sister Mary as
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