The Winter of Our Discontent
|The Winter of Our Discontent|
|Publisher||The Viking Press|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
The Winter of Our Discontent, published in 1961, is John Steinbeck's last novel. The title is a reference to the first two lines of William Shakespeare's Richard III: "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun [or son] of York," .
Plot introduction 
The story revolves around Ethan Allen Hawley, a former member of Long Island's aristocratic class. Ethan's late father has lost his family's fortune, and, consequently, Ethan now works as a clerk in a grocery store. His wife Mary and children resent their lowly social and economic position, and do not put any value in the high levels of honesty and integrity that Ethan struggles to maintain in a corrupt society. These external pressures, as well as his own internal turmoil, send Ethan on a dangerous path to reclaim the status and wealth that he once enjoyed.
Plot summary 
Feeling the pressure from his family and acquaintances to achieve more than his current station, Ethan considers letting his normally high standards of conduct take a brief respite in order to attain a better social and economic position.
Ethan's decision to gain wealth and power is influenced by criticisms and advice from people around him. His acquaintance Margie urges him to take bribes; the bank manager (whose ancestors Ethan blames for his family's fall from grace) urges him to be more ruthless. Ethan's friend Joey, a bank teller, even gives Ethan a rundown on how to rob a bank and get away with it.
On discovering that the current store owner, Italian immigrant Alfio Marullo, might be an illegal immigrant, Ethan places an anonymous tip with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. After Marullo is taken into custody, he transfers ownership of the store to Ethan through the actions of the very government agent that caught him. Marullo gives Ethan the store because he believes Ethan is so honest and deserving. Ethan also considers, plans, and mentally rehearses a bank robbery, stopping short of carrying it out only because of external circumstances. Eventually, he manages to become powerful in the town by taking possession of a strip of land needed by local businessmen to build an airport; he gets the land from Danny Taylor, the town drunkard and Ethan's childhood best friend, through a will made out by Danny and slipped under the door of the store. The will was drawn up without any spoken agreement some time after Ethan gave Danny money under the auspices of sending Danny to receive treatment for alcoholism. Danny assures him that drunks are liars and that he will just drink the money away, and this is indeed confirmed when Danny is found dead with empty bottles of whiskey and sleeping pills.
In this way, Ethan gets to a position where he's able to control the behind-the-scenes dealings of the corrupt town businessmen and politicians. Ethan seems to accept what he has done but is confident that he will not become corrupted by it. He considers that while he had to kill men in the war, he never became a murderer thereafter.
When he discovers that his son won a nationwide essay contest by plagiarizing classic American authors and orators, a conversation ensues with his son in which his son denies any kind of guilty feelings. The son maintains that everyone cheats and lies and that this is in fact the way of things. Perhaps after seeing his own moral decay in his son's actions, and experiencing the guilt of Marullo's deportation and especially the death of Danny, Ethan sets out to commit suicide. His daughter, intuitively understanding his intent, slips a family talisman into his pocket during a long embrace. When Ethan decides to commit the act, he reaches into his pocket to find razorblades and instead comes across the talisman. As the tide comes into the alcove in which he has sequestered himself, he struggles to get out in order to return the talisman to his daughter, in hopes that the light does not go out of her.
Main characters 
- Ethan Allen Hawley – a grocery clerk (the story's protagonist)
- Mary Hawley – Ethan's wife
- Allen and Ellen Hawley – his adolescent children
- Danny Taylor – Ethan's childhood friend and town drunk
- Joey Morphy – bank teller and town playboy
- Margie Young-Hunt – middle-aged seductress and Mary's friend
- Mr. Baker – banker
- Alfio Marullo – Italian immigrant owner of grocery store
Literary significance & criticism 
Atlantic Monthly (Edward Weeks) immediately reviewed The Winter of Our Discontent as a Steinbeck classic: "His dialogue is full of life, the entrapment of Ethan is ingenious, and the morality in this novel marks Mr. Steinbeck's return to the mood and the concern with which he wrote The Grapes of Wrath." The Swedish Academy agreed and awarded Steinbeck the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. The presentation speech by Secretary Anders Österling remarked specifically on five books from 1935 to 1939 and continued thus:
In this brief presentation it is not possible to dwell at any length on individual works which Steinbeck later produced. If at times the critics have seemed to note certain signs of flagging powers, of repetitions that might point to a decrease in vitality, Steinbeck belied their fears most emphatically with The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), a novel published last year. Here he attained the same standard which he set in The Grapes of Wrath. Again he holds his position as an independent expounder of the truth with an unbiased instinct for what is genuinely American, be it good or bad.
Most reviewers in America were disappointed. A few years later Peter Lisca called Winter "undeniable evidence of the aesthetic and philosophical failure of the writer’s later fiction".
In various letters to friends before and after its publication, Steinbeck clearly stated that he wrote the novel to address the moral degeneration of American culture in the 1950s and 1960s. American criticism of his moralism started to change in the 1970s following the Watergate scandal; here is how Reloy Garcia describes his reassessment of the work when asked to update his original Study Guide to Winter: "The book I then so impetuously criticized as somewhat thin, now strikes me as a deeply penetrating study of the American condition. I did not realize, at the time, that we had a condition," and he attributes this change of heart to "our own enriched experience".
In 1983 Carol Ann Kasparek condemned the character of Ethan for his implausibility, and still called Steinbeck’s treatment of American moral decline superficial, although she went on to approve the mythic elements of the story.
At a conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck's birth, Stephen K. George declared: "With these authors [Bellow, Weeks, and Gannett] I would contend that, given its multi-layered complexity, intriguing artistry, and clear moral purpose, The Winter of Our Discontent ranks in the upper echelon of Steinbeck’s fiction, alongside Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and, of course, The Grapes of Wrath." 
The novel was the last that Steinbeck completed before his death in 1968; The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights and the screenplay for Zapata were both published posthumously in unfinished forms.
Film adaptation 
Further reading 
- Meyer, Michael J. "Transforming Evil to Good: The Image of Iscariot in 'Winter of Our Discontent'." Steinbeck Quarterly 26.03-04 (Summer/Fall 1993): 101-111.
- Valenti, Peter. "Steinbeck's Geographical Seasons: The Winter of Our Discontent." Steinbeck Quarterly 26.03-04 (Summer/Fall 1993): 111-117.
- Weeks, Edward (July 1961). "Review: The Winter of Our Discontent, by John Steinbeck". Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
- "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1962: Presentation Speech by Anders Österling, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 2012-01-30.
- Lisca, Peter (1965), Steinbeck’s Image of Man and His Decline as a Writer, Modern Fiction Studies 11, p. 10
- Garcia, Reloy (1979), A Study Guide to Steinbeck (Part II), Metuchen: Scarecrow, p. 4
- Kasparek, Carol Ann (1983), Ethan’s Quest Within: A Mythic Interpretation of John Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, Ball State University, p. 31
- George, Stephen K (March 2002). "The Contemporary Nature of Steinbeck's Winter". BYU Idaho. Retrieved 2011-08-02.