What Inspired John Steinbeck to Write?

John Steinbeck’s personal connection with the land, his early experience with Thomas Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur,” and his interactions with migrant workers inspired his writing. The conflict between migrant workers and management over labor rights became an important theme in many of his works, according to the National Steinbeck Center.

John Steinbeck was born and grew up in Salinas, Calif., one of the more prosperous farming towns in the Salinas Valley. The land and the people in Salinas served as a strong influence on his stories and writing, and the fact that his characters identify so strongly with their land stems from his own childhood experiences.

When Steinbeck turned 9, he received “Morte d’Arthur” as a birthday present. He and his sister would spend hours imagining that the sands around Salinas contained the palace of Camelot, and in his later novel “Tortilla Flat,” Steinbeck incorporates tropes from Arthurian legends and chapter headings that hearken back to the Round Table.

The conversations that Steinbeck had with migrant workers in California informed such novels as “In Dubious Battle,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” “Of Mice and Men” follows two migrant laborers as they make their way around California, and “The Grapes of Wrath” is a longer work following a migrant family through the trials of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Both works show his sympathy for the plight of poor migrants, who were often at the mercy of landowners for their very sustenance.