Abstract

In America and Americans John Steinbeck defines his country and its people, in the process serving as a national bard, or seer—upbraiding his nation for its failures and foibles and peering into its future with both hope and some trepidation. He acknowledges the country's lapses, while praising its resilience: “We have failed sometimes, taken wrong paths, paused for renewal, filled our bellies and licked our wounds; but we have never slipped back—never” (205). The somewhat wistful tone of “we have never slipped back” lacks the confidence that “we shall never slip back” would have indicated (emphasis added). Increasingly concerned with America's mores and morality, there is throughout America and Americans an appeal to a higher self and a higher way, but no direct appeal to God, even peripherally. That appeal is reserved for a fictional account of one representative Every American, Ethan Allen Hawley, in The Winter of Our Discontent, a novel that parallels Steinbeck's concerns for his country in his non-fiction America and Americans. Part One centers around the biblical Easter story, and Part Two, focuses on the time around the Fourth of July, concluding with Ethan's oration on “light” as he contemplates suicide, with its implication that there is a Light Giver in a world beyond this one—a place he calls “home.”

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