Matthew's Reviews > The Winter of Our Discontent

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
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's review
Oct 01, 07

Recommended for: you
Read in January, 2005

there was a time in my life when i read this each fall, as the the michigan winter was about to make my psyche turn to salt. i first read it by accident, finding it in my co-op on the floor in a room that had been abandonded and now was only used for smoking this and that. the walls of the room had been painted different superheroes from the previous tenant's childhood. i liked the rendition of green hornet, although the renderer claimed he was an after-thought, someone to fill the space between the wolverine and an early version of batman. i remember reading it instead of going to class for a few days and wondering why i had turned down steinbeck for so long, only having ventured into of mice and men sometime in high school.

before the winter of our discontent i was a vonnegut head, and i suppose i always will be in one way or another, but this is the book that brought on the onslaught of working class struggles and burgeoning life where there was little to find. i know this one got panned by the critics and doesn't really come into play much when people talk about the man, but it is something to miss if you pass it by. the story is a basic one of moral decay in america, especially interesting considering the present day. this was his last work, and with that i suppose you could say it was the book that ended his career, although that is a loaded statement. after reading this i tore into his canon, not really coming up for air until after reading the last word of east of eden, which no adorns my shoulder. so, if nothing else, i have this book to thank for cal and adam trask, and that is a lot.

i give this book a strong 4, and i do mean strong. a critical analysis of this book will bring flaws to light, but that is not why he wrote it, nor why i read it. the book does not pretend to not be heavy-handed. the moral message is strong, but not absurd. if you're looking for mystery look elsewhere, he does not hide his characters through his plot as in other of his stories. simply put, the book is filled with beautiful images of people in need of life who don't know where to look.

two quotes that always got me because of their simplicity:

"Most people live ninety percent in the past, seven percent in the present, and that only leaves three percent for the future."

"Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms."
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message 1: by Yothgoboufnir (last edited Jul 14, 2012 08:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Yothgoboufnir My thoughts about this book were similar. The complaint that this book is a weak point in Steinbeck's output because it is exceptionally heavy-handed is common, but, after I read it and almost all of his other works, that complaint struck me as a little hilarious.

Consider, for example, that 'The Grapes of Wrath' actually includes multiple chapter-long interludes where all action in the story is suspended so a grave voice can pop in and tell us how widespread misery is, *as well as* an in-story character (a preacher) to make sure the moral dimensions of the characters' physical suffering never goes too long without being made explicit.

I think the major difference between the two books is that the characters in 'The Grapes' are basically victims, whereas the characters in 'The Winter' share some (unclear) portion of the moral responsibility for their own situation. By most definitions with which I am familiar, this actually makes 'The Winter' more nuanced, not more heavy-handed.

It seems the moral implications of 'Our Discontent' make people especially uncomfortable; it seems its readers find themselves prodded to reflect that the story is contrived for their own moral edification in a way that doesn't happen even with the total interruptions of the narrative, for the sake of moralizing, in 'Grapes of Wrath'. It is an intriguing difference.

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