Abstract

No work of John Steinbeck has received more controversy, disparate opinion, and misinterpretation than his last novel, The Winter of Our Discontent. Many critics characterize the protagonist, Ethan Allen Hawley, as immoral, greedy, and a Judas-like betrayer of friend and associates. Several critiques characterize the story as vague, implausible, and irresolute, especially in comparison to Steinbeck's earlier California novels. In this article, the morality of Hawley's decisions and the structural format of this complex novel are examined in biological terms of adaptability, survival, and the community tide pool. Key passages from Sea of Cortez and excerpts from Steinbeck: A Life in Letters illuminate the rationale for Ethan's character and relationships with his family and others in New Baytown. The novel and Ethan's behavior are compared with the Arthurian principles that Steinbeck extolled in his life and works. Finally, a case is presented for reading The Winter of Our Discontent as an “experiment” that worked and as a novel that accomplished what its author intended.

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