John Steinbeck's greatest works of fiction

Feb 2017
John Steinbeck's birthday was 27 February 1902.
John Steinbeck's birthday was 27 February 1902.

Yesterday (27 February) would have been American author John Steinbeck's 115th birthday.

Throughout his lifetime he wrote 27 books, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and five collections of short stories.

His works frequently explored the themes of fate and injustice, especially as applied to his ordinary, downtrodden protagonists; and although the majority of his texts are set in southern and central California, they are still read and considered classics right across the globe.

To commemorate his birthday we've reminded ourselves of some of his celebrated works:

The Red Pony (1933)
One of his earliest works, Steinbeck weaves memories of his own childhood into the coming-of-age tales of Jody Tiflin, an adolescent rancher in The Red Pony.

The four related stories within the novella trace key events in Jody's life wherein he learns about courage, responsibility and loss.

Through the relationships he has with his family, his friends and his horses, Jody also learns a lot more about himself.

Of Mice and Men (1937)
Of Mice and Men is a favourite amongst our students as it features on the higher levels of the Kumon Recommended Reading List, and many students across the UK also study the text as part of their English Literature GCSE.

It is a brilliant story of life lived on the edge; the child-like Lennie and his streetwise companion George are penniless migrant workers in pursuit of their dreams.

Set in 1930s America, it provides an insight into The Great Depression, encompassing themes of racism, prejudice against the mentally ill, and the struggle for personal independence.

The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath is considered Steinbeck's greatest masterpiece, and in the first 75 years after it was published, it sold 14 million copies.

Also set in the Great Depression, the story follows the Joads, a family of farmers driven from their home and livelihood by poor environmental and economic conditions, as they make their way to better pastures.

Steinbeck famously said on the text: "I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags", and he certainly does, through his realistic and sympathetic portrayal of the struggles of the working class during this tremulous period in American history.

Steinbeck won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature, "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception", and it is this engaging and distinct writing style which keeps his fictions ever popular today.