John Steinbeck Quotes

John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr, 1902 – 1968

Born: 27 February 1902, Salinas, California
Died: 20 February 1968, New York City

Steinbeck’s grandfather, Johann Groβsteinbeck, had shortened the family name at immigration and gave the English version of his name to Steinbeck’s father who was treasurer of Monterey County when the future writer was born. His mother was a former schoolteacher with a passion for reading and writing. He attended the local public school, graduating from Salinas High School in 1919. During summers he had worked on nearby ranches, side-by-side with migrants, and had explored the forests, fields, and farms of the area extensively. He enrolled at Stanford University, attending intermittently until 1925 without finishing a degree. He moved to New York City and worked odd jobs while trying to get his work published, returning to California in 1928. Through the Depression he lived in a cottage his father owned at Pacific Grove, his father also loaned him substantial sums to live on while writing. Through the ’30s and ’40s he spent a lot of time collecting biological specimens with Ed Ricketts. Ricketts was the model for “Doc” in Cannery Row and appeared in at least four of Steinbeck’s other books. Steinbeck’s first success came with Tortilla Flat (1935), he then used his own experience as background for Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939), all three titles were made into motion pictures. Grapes would earn him the Pulitzer in 1940 but was banned in his home county because of it’s honest depiction of the lot of migrant workers. During WW II he worked as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune and worked with the Office of Strategic Services. He covered the war up close, suffering a number of shrapnel wounds. He wrote for Hollywood, notably the script for Viva Zapata! and was the on-screen narrator for a film featuring short stories by O. Henry. He considered East of Eden (1952) to be his best work, and feeling his mortality he toured the country in a custom-built pickup/camper rig (rare at the time) with his blue poodle Charley, which became Travels with Charley: In Search of America. He won the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature. A life-long smoker, he died of congestive heart failure.

John Steinbeck quotes:

A book is like a man: clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.
    John Steinbeck

A boy gets to be a man when a man is needed.
    John Steinbeck

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

A little hope, even hopeless hope, never hurt anybody.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

A man is a lonely thing.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

A man so painfully in love is capable of self-torture beyond belief.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

A man who tells secrets or stories must think of who is hearing or reading, for a story has as many versions as it has readers.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

A man without words is a man without thought.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

A question is a trap, and an answer your foot in it.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome.
    John Steinbeck

A writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
    John Steinbeck – Nobel acceptance speech, Stockholm, Sweden (10 December 1962)

All great and precious things are lonely.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

All men are moral. Only their neighbors are not.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.
    John Steinbeck

An answer is invariably the parent of a whole family of new questions.
    John Steinbeck

An ocean without unnamed monsters would be like sleep without dreams.
    John Steinbeck

And finally comes culture, which is entertainment, relaxation, transport out of the pain of living.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.
    John Steinbeck

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression.
    John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history; repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.
    John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

Anything that just costs money is cheap.
    John Steinbeck

Are cats strange animals or do they so resemble us that we find them curious as we do monkeys?
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.
    John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men (1937)

Boileau said that Kings, Gods and Heroes only were fit subjects for literature. The writer can only write about what he admires. Present-day kings aren’t very inspiring, the gods are on a vacation and about the only heroes left are the scientists and the poor.
    John Steinbeck

But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

Can you honestly love a dishonest thing?
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

Don’t make everyone know about your sadness.
    John Steinbeck

Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days. Mother’s cooking was with rare exceptions poor, that good unpasteurized milk touched only by flies and bits of manure crawled with bacteria, the healthy old-time life was riddled with aches, sudden death from unknown causes, and that sweet local speech I mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance. It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

Failure is a state of mind. It’s like one of those sand traps an ant lion digs. You keep sliding back. Takes one hell of a jump to get out of it.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life or death of the whole world, of all living things.
    John Steinbeck – Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1962)

For it is my opinion that we enclose and celebrate the freaks of our nation and our civilization. Yellowstone National Park is no more representative of America than is Disneyland.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.
    John Steinbeck – The Pearl (1947)

Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

Good God, what a mess of draggle-tail impulses a man is, and a woman too, I guess.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus’ works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.
    John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men (1937)

Hard-covered books break up friendships. You loan a hard covered book to a friend and when he doesn’t return it you get mad at him. It makes you mean and petty. But twenty-five cent books are different.
    John Steinbeck

He can kill anything for need but he could not even hurt a feeling for pleasure.
    John Steinbeck – Cannery Row (1945)

He learned that when people are very poor they still have something to give and the impulse to give it.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

Her father was frightened by a strange bed or a foreign language or a political party he didn’t belong to. Her father truly believed that the Democratic party was a subversive organization whose design would destroy the United States and put it in the hands of bearded communists.
    John Steinbeck – The Wayward Bus (1947)

Here is individual responsibility and the invention of conscience. You can if you will but it is up to you. This little story(from the Bible)turns out to be one of the most profound in the world. I always felt it was,but now I know it is.
    John Steinbeck

His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.
    John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men (1937)

How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him, he has known a fear beyond every other.
    John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Humanity has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion.
    John Steinbeck – Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1962)

I am happy to report that in the war between reality and romance, reality is not the stronger.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

I guess I’m trying to say: Grab anything that goes by. It may not come around again.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

I guess there are never enough books.
    John Steinbeck

I guess this is why I hate governments. It is always the rule, the fine print, carried out by the fine print men. There’s nothing to fight, no wall to hammer with frustrated fists.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

I had been practicing for the Depression a long time. I wasn’t involved with loss. I didn’t have money to lose, but in common with millions I did dislike hunger and cold.
    John Steinbeck

I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything.
    John Steinbeck

I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.
    John Steinbeck – “…like captured fireflies” (1955)

I have lost all sense of home, having moved about so much. It means to me now only that place where the books are kept.
    John Steinbeck

I have wondered why is it that some people are less affected and torn by the verities of life and death that others.
    John Steinbeck – East of Eden (1952)

I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
    John Steinbeck – Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1962)

I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.
    John Steinbeck

I shall revenge myself in the cruelest way you can imagine. I shall forget it.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

I think bullfights are for men who aren’t very brave and wish they were.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.
    John Steinbeck

I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.
    John Steinbeck – The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.
    John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962)

I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.
    John Steinbeck

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.
    John Steinbeck

If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.
    John Steinbeck

If you’re in trouble or hurt or need, go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help, the only ones.
    John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

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