November Book Club: Winter of Our Discontent PREview

The Winter of Our Discontent

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck not only won a Pulitzer in his life, he won the Nobel
Prize in Literature–arguably the most prestigious award given to a
writer. He was also the last American man to win the award (in 1962).
You may have heard of some of his books: The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice
and Men, or East of Eden. You may have even been forced to read one in
high school. We decided to go with one of his slightly lesser known
books, The Winter of Our Discontent. It was Steinbeck’s last novel,
written in 1961.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, Steinbeck said, “Man himself has
become our greatest hazard and our only hope.” Maybe we should put
that in the “about us” section here at iUMBC. Perhaps no book of
Steinbeck’s reflects this statement more than The Winter of Our
Discontent.

The book’s central character is Ethan Allen Hawley, a grocery clerk
and moral family man. Ethan’s family used to be part of the New
England aristocracy, and his family’s fall is the fault of his father.
Facing his shame and the subtle criticism from those around him leads
Ethan to embark on the path of reclamation and restitution, albeit in
somewhat unconventional ways. To give away more would be a disservice
to the reading experience. At times the novel is at times genial,
compelling, and heartbreaking.

This book will surely yield great discussion. The book is rich with
mystical symbolism and is a penetrating criticism of the American
condition. If Steinbeck wasn’t ahead of his time in this regard, it is
only because it fit the situation then as much as it does now. It’s
the kind of book that stays with you after you finish it, and I’m sure
the emotional reactions will be varied.

You can get the book here:

About Luke

Luke learned to read at the age of two, whereupon he decided, like much of the male population, that it was a chore to be done only when absolutely necessary. Then suddenly at age nineteen, he discovered good books—he has been reading voraciously ever since, earning multiple literature and writing degrees. At any given moment you'll find him reading at least one book, smoking a cigar, up fifty feet in a tree he free-climbed.

Currently Reading:
Collected Stories by Alexander Pushkin
-Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
The Mystery of Being by Gabriel Marcel

Comments

  1. How has no one mentioned my Winter of DisconScent joke from our Matterhorn Deodorant post??? That’s just funny people!

  2. I’d have to disagree, adamantly so. Of all Steinbeck’s literary gems, “The Winter of Our Discontent” felt the most derivative. Give me “East of Eden,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “Of Mice and Men,” even “The Pearl” or “Travels with Charlie” before you give me “TWoOD.” Nonetheless, all things considered, even Steinbeck at his worst could still kick the ass of most (like say 90%) of contemporary ‘serious’ fiction writers. Steinbeck not only wrote about America, he embodied America. Spoilers notwithstanding, the ending is too Hollywood-esque. Though Steinbeck raises timely, nearly clairvoyant issues, the novel as a work of art is among his weaker arsenal. But – again – even Steinbeck without his ‘A’ game is still worthwhile. Steinbeck: unabashaedly American, simple, almost sentimental, always sincere. Hell yes: give me some Steinbeck.

  3. And by disagree, I mean: “TWoOD” is a sub-par work of art, hardly a novel. 2-D characters, glacial pacing with dialogue and plot, (again) too-staged ending. It ain’t your vintage Steinbeck; rather, it’s just something written by Steinbeck.

    • Thanks for giving us your thoughts!
      It will be interesting to see what everyone thinks about the book. I wonder if our Reviews will reflect what you see in Winter of Our Discontent. Check back when its posted at the end of the month to see if you still agree or disagree with everyone.

  4. I have not finished the book so these words are not yet grounded:
    Thus far I agree that other Steinbeck books are more profound, more “artly,” but I don’t see Discontent as sub-par with 2-D characters. It reads more refined. Like his other writing, it is beautiful in its simplicity. Steinbeck is the ultimate voice-of-nostalgia and while other books of his show more conflict and story development, this book is rich internally.
    And reenforce I must:
    “even Steinbeck without his ‘A’ game is still worthwhile. Steinbeck: unabashaedly American, simple, almost sentimental, always sincere. Hell yes: give me some Steinbeck.”

  5. To be fair (and honest), it’s been 3 years since I’ve read “TWoOD,” so my discontent with the novel may change should I ever re-read it. I recall finishing the novel with a bad aftertaste that has lingered to this day. I didn’t find Ethan’s interior monologue to be believable, though Steinbeck does raise timely and timeless questions. More to the point – and where Nick and I, it seems, can agree – I am an insuperable Steinbeck fan. I am hoping to read his whole corpus, and I recently finished “Tortilla Flat,” which I highly recommend.

  6. Seriously. Steinbeck is amazing.
    This reminds me how much we are influenced by what we read. I have been flipping quickly through young adult novels, as I’m studying to be a middle school language arts teacher, ie: cheap and easy. So the minute I open a book like this one or Matterhorn (last month’s book), it is like the first bite of a salty burger, one that left wet cheese dripping through the gill racks. Sinking my teeth into literature that is masterfully crafted is a completely different animal.
    I imagine I’d think different thoughts on this book if I was experiencing the hangover of withdrawals that we get after walking away from East of Eden.
    But alas, we read on.

  7. I’ll chime in.
    Steinbeck is amazing, yes. And is this his finest work? no, probably not. He himself said East of Eden was his best–and of what I’ve read I’d have to agree. But this book is still quite good and has merit despite it not being East of Eden. I think to approach this book and hope for an East of Eden is to miss the point.
    Steinbeck has a much more specific focus here, really focusing in on one main character. The scope is much smaller, therefore the list of supporting characters are less fleshed out than in his longer works–but they are not the point. The point is Ethan. And by Ethan I mean the Ethan that is the American left in the ruins of the lore of what came before. This is arguably Steinbeck’s most critical book, which perhaps makes it less endearing in some ways. It wasn’t written to be a masterpiece I would argue, but it has its place in the Steinbeck catalog–and an important one.
    Also for the purposes of a one month book club it works really well as an introduction to Steinbeck for many in a manageable and accessible way. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone reading this as their first Steinbeck to continue on and read his other great works.

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