What Influenced John Steinbeck?

Among novelist John Steinbeck’s literary influences were the parts of California where he grew up, the people he knew and memories from his personal life. He also drew on current and historical events for the backgrounds, settings, themes and storylines of his novels.

The parts of central California where Steinbeck grew up are so often mentioned in his works that the area is often referred to as “Steinbeck Country.” For instance, the novel “East of Eden” mainly takes place in the Salinas Valley, and “Cannery Row,” “Sweet Thursday” and “Tortilla Flat” are all mainly set in Monterey. The character of Doc in “Cannery Row” and “Sweet Thursday” is based on Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist who was Steinbeck’s close friend and collaborator. Ricketts was also the inspiration for characters in other novels such as “Burning Bright,” “In Dubious Battle” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” The fictitious pony in “The Red Pony” is based on a pony Steinbeck had as a child. Steinbeck wrote on themes and subjects that fascinating him such as struggles of the working class, migrant labor, marine biology and history.

Several of Steinbeck’s novels are based on historical events. For instance, his first novel, “Cup of Gold,” concerns the life of the famous pirate Henry Morgan. “In Dubious Battle,” “Of Mice and Men” and “The Grapes of Wrath” are about the struggles of workers during the Great Depression. “The Moon is Down” is about resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II.