Thomas DeWolf's Reviews > The Winter of Our Discontent

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
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Jul 02, 09

bookshelves: fiction

Ethan Hawley descends from a wealthy family but the wealth is gone. He makes a fateful choice to turn his fortunes around. Of all of Steinbeck's wonderful books The Winter of Our Discontent is the one that sticks with me, that I think about most often. I probably read it thirty years ago and yet the image of a man's light going out--that level of despair--based on choices he made, remains.

"I don't know for sure how other people are inside--all different and all alike at the same time. I can only guess. But I do know how I will squirm and wriggle to avoid a hurtful truth and, when finally there is no choice, will put it off, hoping it will go away."

We pay attention to the big decisions made by powerful people because that is what the media focuses on and what we relish. I've come to believe that those big choices never happen in a vacuum. There are many small choices by many unknown people that precede everything; it is all, we are all, interconnected. A tsunami that destroys people and communities is the culmination of many small factors leading up to it, impacting it. A president of the United States decides to declare war. We want to blame him when things go awry. Yet he is us. We are him. And I am Ethan Hawley. We're all part of the way things are in the world. And yet we are alone in our despair.

"It isn't true that there's a community of light, a bonfire of the world. Everyone carries his own, his lonely own... My light is out. There's nothing blacker than a wick."

The funny thing is I don't find "The Winter of Our Discontent" depressing the way the foregoing sounds. You'll find yourself in Ethan Hawley. And if you don't avoid hurtful truths I believe you'll also find hope.
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