Quotes by John Steinbeck
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Wikipedia Summary for John Steinbeck
John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American author and the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature winner "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception." He has been called "a giant of American letters", and many of his works are considered classics of Western literature.
During his writing career, he authored 33 books, with one book coauthored alongside Edward Ricketts, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and two collections of short stories. He is widely known for the comic novels Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945), the multi-generation epic East of Eden (1952), and the novellas The Red Pony (1933) and Of Mice and Men (1937). The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is considered Steinbeck's masterpiece and part of the American literary canon. In the first 75 years after it was published, it sold 14 million copies.
Most of Steinbeck's work is set in central California, particularly in the Salinas Valley and the California Coast Ranges region. His works frequently explored the themes of fate and injustice, especially as applied to downtrodden or everyman protagonists.
Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.
A sad soul can kill you quicker than a germ.
All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal.
And the people listened, and their faces were quiet with listening. The story tellers, gathering attention into their tales, spoke in great rhythms, spoke in great words because the tales were great, and the listeners became great through them.
Are cats strange animals or do they so resemble us that we find them curious as we do monkeys?
There are places in this world where fable, myth, preconception, love, longing or prejudice step in and so distort a cool, clear appraisal that a kind of high colored magical confusion takes permanent hold...Surely Texas is such a place.
If we could learn to like ourselves, even a little, maybe our cruelties and angers might melt away.
It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.
Florida is a golden word...The very name Florida carried the message of warmth and ease and comfort. It was irresistible.
New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous.
But there is one thing about it -- once you have lived in New York and it has become your h.
New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous.
But there is one thing about it -- once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.
The bank, the monster has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll die. No, taxes go on. When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size.
It has always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses has it coming.
We gather our arms full of guilt as though it were precious stuff. It must be that we want it that way.
As with many people, Charles, who could not talk, wrote with fullness. He set down his loneliness and his perplexities, and he put on paper many things he did not know about himself.
It is astounding to find that the belly of every black and evil thing is white as snow. And it is saddening to discover how the concealed parts of angels are leprous.
We're sorry. It's not us. It's the monster. The bank isn't a man. The bank isn't like a man.
Yes, but the bank is only made of men.
But Doc had one mental habit he could not get over. When anyone asked a question, Doc thought he wanted to know the answer.
If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it-bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn't belong there.
In every man this thing is hidden. It tries to get out, but a man's fears distort it. He chokes it back. What does get out is changed-blood on the hands of a statue, emotion over the story of an ancient torture-the giving or drawing of blood in copulation.
I have made up reasons, but they aren't true. I have said to myself, 'The sun is life. I give life to life'-'I make a symbol of the sun's death.' When I made these reasons I knew they weren't true.....I gave up reasons. I do this because it makes me glad. I do it because I like to.
While the churches, bringing the sweet smell of piety for the soul, came in prancing and farting like brewery horses in bock-beer time, the sister evangelism, with release and joy for the body, crept in.
silently and greyly, with its head bowed and its face covered.
The first few years after Samuel came to Salinas Valley there was a vague distrust of him. And perhaps Will as a little boy heard talk in the San Lucas store. Little boys don't want their fathers to be different from other men. Will might have picked up his conservatism right then.
And the women who had thought they wanted dresses never realized that what they had wanted was happiness.
I had been practicing for the Depression a long time. I wasn't involved with loss. I didn't have money to lose, but in common with millions I did dislike hunger and cold.
I have noticed that there is no dissatisfaction like that of the rich. Feed a man, clothe him, put him in a good house, and he will die of despair.
It's one of the great fallacies, it seems to me, that time gives much of anything but years and sadness to man.
For how can you remember the feel of pleasure or pain or choking emotion? You can remember only that you had them.
The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.
Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech.
In a world that was not easy for Alice to bear or understand, flies were the final and malicious burden laid upon her.
I wanta buy stuff. Stuff I don't need... Stuff settin' out there, you jus' feel like buyin' it whether you need it or not.
But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There's no godliness there.
Luck or tragedy, some people get runs. Then of course there are those who divide it even, good and bad, but we never hear of them. Such a life doesn't demand attention. Only the people who get the good or bad runs.
For the world was changing, and sweetness was gone, and virtue too. Worry had crept on a corroding world, and what was lost- good manners, ease and beauty? Ladies were not ladies anymore, and you couldn't trust a gentleman's word.
The house was clean, scrubbed and immaculate, curtains washed, windows polished, but all as a man does it -- the ironed curtains did not hang quite straight and there were streaks on the windows and a square showed on the table when a book was moved.
Sexuality with all its attendant yearnings and pains, jealousies and taboos, is the most disturbing impulse humans have.
They had not grown up in the paradoxes of industry. Their senses were still sharp to the ridiculousness of the industrial life.
We will rich soon, and you who handle poverty badly will handle riches equally badly... In poverty she is envious. In riches she may be a snob. Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms.
Sure, cried the tenant men, but it's our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it's no good, it's still ours. That's what makes it ours-being born on it, working it, dying on it.
Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is.
Books ain't no good. A guy needs somebody -- to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody.
And the great owners, who had become through the might of their holdings both more and less than men.
The bank -- the monster has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll die. No, taxes go on. When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size.
People are interested only in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule -- a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting -- only the deeply personal and familiar.
When two men live together they usually maintain a kind of shabby neatness out of incipient rage at each other. Two men alone are constantly on the verge of fighting, and they know it.
But Kino had lost his old world and he must clamber on to a new one. For his dream of the future was real and never to be destroyed, and he said I will go, and that made a real thing too.
The doctrine of our time is that man can't get along without a whole hell of a lot of stuff. You may not be preaching it, but you're living treason.
How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise -- the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream -- be set down alive?
I wish to God I knew as much about writing as I did when I was 19. I was absolutely certain about most things then. Also, I suspect, more accurate.
My town had grown and changed and my friend along with it. Now returning, as changed to my friend as my town was to me, I distorted his picture, muddied his memory. When I went away I had died, and so became fixed and unchangeable. My return caused only confusion and uneasiness.
I have wondered why is it that some people are less affected and torn by the verities of life and death that others.
In every bit of honest writing in the world, there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.
I am writing this from what we Americans call Yurrp. In Yurrp writers are taken as seriously as Lana Turner's legs are in America -- a ridiculous situation.
The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
Kino heard the little splash of morning waves on the beach. It was very good -- Kino closed his eyes again to listen to his music.
It is better to sit in appreciative contemplation of a world in which beauty is eternally supported on a foundation of ugliness: cut out the support, and beauty will sink from sight.
Those thoughts she had kept weak and pale and hidden in the recesses of her brain, just out of thinking vision, came out into the open, and she saw that they were not foul and loathesome like slugs, as she had always believed, but somehow light and gay and holy.
The calm and the sorrow were so great that they bore down on his chest, and the loneliness was complete, a circle impenetrable.
They called him a comical genius and carried his stories carefully home, and they wondered at how the stories spilled out on the way, for they never sounded the same repeated in their own kitchens.
The literature of science is filled with answers found when the question propounded had an entirely different direction and end.
So much there is to see, but our morning eyes describe a different world than do our afternoon eyes, and surely our wearied evening eyes can report only a weary evening world.
During the years he was never sick, except of course for the chronic indigestion which was universal, and still is, with men who live alone, cook for themselves, and eat in solitude.
It is a time of quiet joy, the sunny morning. When the glittery dew is on the mallow weeds, each leaf holds a jewel which is beautiful if not valuable. This is no time for hurry or for bustle. Thoughts are slow and deep and golden in the morning.
And then we take a soldier and put murder in his hands and we say to him, Use it well, use it wisely.
And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man.
The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. In this, if in no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, and waste seems to be the index.
The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it.
How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him -- he has known a fear beyond every other.
Give me a used Bible and I will, I think, be able to tell you about a man by the places that are edged with the dirt of seeking fingers.
It is the nature of a person as he she grows older to protest against change, particularly changes for the better.
And I here make a rule-a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting-only the deeply personal and familiar.
In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layer of frailty men want to be good and want be loved. Indeed most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love.
In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror.
A man can do a lot of damage in the church. When someone comes here, he's got his guard up. But in church a man's wide open.
It is easy, out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, 'I couldn't help it; the way was set.' But think of the glory of the choice!
The proofs that God does not exist are very strong, but in lots of people they are not as strong as the feeling that He does.
I take a pleasure in inquiring into things. I've never been content to pass a stone without looking under it. And it is a black disappointment to me that I can never see the far side of the moon.
They're a dark people with a gift for suffering way past their deserving. It's said that without whiskey to soak and soften the world, they'd kill themselves.
And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.
I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents.... The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit--for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
--Steinbeck Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech.
A strange species we are, We can stand anything God and nature can throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much, and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy, sick. -- John Steinbeck to Adlai Stevenson.
The camera need not be a cold mechanical device. Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart.
I guess this personal hide-and-seek is not unusual. And some people are 'it' all their lives -- hopelessly 'it.
I dislike helplessness in other people and in myself, and this is by far my greatest fear of illness.
The curious hocus-pocus of criticism I can't take seriously. It consists in squirreling up some odd phrases and then waiting for a book to come running by.
Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving among the leaves. The shade climbed up the hills toward the top. On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones.
The warfare between the unaroused male and female is constant and ferocious. Each blames the other for his loss of soul.
My wants are simple. I have no desire to latch onto a monster symbol of fate and power and prove my manhood in titanic piscine war. But sometimes I do like a couple of cooperative fish of frying size.
Oh, I guess I'm physically able to father a child. That's not what I'm thinking. I'm too closely married to a quiet reading lamp.
Dear Lord,' he said. 'let me be like Aron. Don't make me mean. I don't want to be. If you will let everybody like me, why, I'll give you anything in the world, and if I haven't got it, why, I'll go for to get it. I don't want to be mean. I don't want to be lonely. For Jesus' sake, Amen.
Lennie said quietly, It ain't no lie. We're gonna do it. Gonna get a little place an' live on the fatta the lan'.
Then it is better, sir, to love whom one cannot have? Probably better, Lancelot said. Certainly safer.
A guy needs somebody―to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.
Possibly the deep feeling is that if people learn to eat one another the food supply would be so generous and so available that no one would be either safe or hungry.
Just set one day's work in front of the last day's work. That's the way it comes out. And that's the only way it does.
Maybe -- maybe love makes you suspicious and doubting. Is it true that when you love a woman you are never sure -- never sure of her because you aren't sure of yourself?
How can I teach my boys the value and beauty of language and thus communication when the President himself reads westerns exclusively and cannot put together a simple English sentence? (John Steinbeck, in a private letter written during the Eisenhower administration).
One of the laws of paleontology is that an animal which must protect itself with thick armour is degenerate. It is usually a sign that the species is on the road to extinction.
But you can't start over Only a boy can start over You and me Why, we're all that's been.
But you can't start. Only a baby can start. You and me -- why, we're all that's been. The anger of a moment, the thousand pictures, that's us. This land, this red land, is us; and the flood years and the dust years and the drought years are us. We can't start again.
Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope. So that today, St. John the apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the Word, and the Word is Man -- and the Word is with Men.
There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good.
Riches seem to come to the poor in spirit, the poor in interest and joy. To put it straight -- the very rich are a poor bunch of bastards.
She had a dour Presbyterian mind and a code of morals that pinned down and beat the brains out of nearly everything that was pleasant to do.
They successfully combined piracy and puritanism, which aren't so unlike when you come right down to it. Both had a strong dislike for opposition and both had a roving eye for other people's property.
Three hours of writing require twenty hours of preparation. Luckily I have learned to dream about the work, which saves me some working time.
Yes, you should talk, he said. Sometimes a sad man can talk the sadness right out through his mouth. Sometimes a killin' man can talk the murder right out of his mouth.
Then the hard, dry Spaniards came exploring through, greedy and realistic, and their greed was for gold or God. They collected souls as they collected jewels. They gathered mountains and valleys, rivers and whole horizons, the way a man might now gain tittle to building lots.
Guy don't need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus' works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain't hardly ever a nice fella.
Radio and television speech becomes standardized, perhaps better English than we have ever used. Just as our bread, mixed and baked, packaged and sold without benefit of accident of human frailty, is uniformly good and uniformly tasteless, so will our speech become one speech.
The misery stayed, not thought about but aching away, and sometimes I would have to ask myself, Why do I ache? Men can get used to anything, but it takes time.
It's all fine to say, Time will heal everything, this too shall pass away. People will forget--and things like that when you are not involved, but when you are there is no passage of time, people do not forget and you are in the middle of something that does not change.
The desert, being an unwanted place, might well be the last stand of life against unlife. For in the rich and moist and wanted areas of the world, life pyramids against itself and in its confusion has finally allied itself with the enemy non-life.
When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find himself a good and sufficient reason for going.
I guess this is why I hate governments, all governments. It is always the rule, the fine print, carried out by fine-print men. There's nothing to fight, no wall to hammer with frustrated fists.
It was a day as different from other days as dogs are from cats and both of them from chrysanthemums or tidal waves or scarlet fever.
When I was very young and the urge to be someplace was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch.
But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed -- because 'Thou mayest.
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