Steinbeck’s Treatment of Evil

Date
2014-01-15
Authors
Pollock, Janice
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract
The problem of evil--the totality of suffering and wickedness which pervades human life--has been one of intense concern to man for centuries. One needs only to turn to the first chapter of the Bible, parts of which were composed as early as the eleventh century BC, and read the ancient Hebrews' attempt to account for the undesirable and harmful acts, experiences, and phenomena in this world to realize how many centuries man has been plagued and fascinated by this mystery. Although this problem is one which has been of concern to man perhaps for as long as he has been in existence, it is one to which the modern world has no more satisfying answers than had the Hebrews who wrote the story of Job. Many modern writers continue to explore the various aspects of evil in their work, grappling with the numerous baffling problems which evil presents, and attempting to gain a better understanding of this phenomenon. One such contemporary American author is John Steinbeck. Ever since Steinbeck first launched his career as a writer with the novel, Cup of Gold, a fictionized account of the life of the pirate, Henry Morgan, the problem of evil has been a major element in his work. Many critics have observed this element and have attempted to explain Steinbeck's personal philosophy of evil, using his writings as evidence of his beliefs. To this sort of interpretation, Steinbeck has displayed reactions ranging from indifference to open hostility, declaring vehemently that he is not a philosopher and that his works should not be dealt with in this fashion. Since I lack the experience and insight of these critics, I shall not attempt to search out and explain Steinbeck’s personal philosophy in his work. Rather, I shall limit myself to an examination of the problem of evil in certain of his novels, and dealing with these in chronological order, I shall attempt to point out any trends and patterns in Steinbeck’s consideration of this problem.
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