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The winter of our discontent by John…
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The winter of our discontent (original 1961; edition 1961)

by John Steinbeck

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3,317631,638 (3.92)1 / 224
Member:Jan7Smith
Title:The winter of our discontent
Authors:John Steinbeck
Info:New York : The Viking Press, 1961.
Collections:Your library, Favorites, Read
Rating:****
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The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck (1961)

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Description from back of book

"Ethan Hawley, a descendant of proud New England sea captains, works as a clerk in the grocery store owned by an Italian immigrant. His wie is restless, his teenage children are troubled and disoriented, hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards."

My comments

I love John Steinbeck. This book is no exception. This book is a powerful indictment of middle class materialism, of the emptiness and hurt that is necessary to reach the 'top' ranks of society, and the moral depravity that is necessary to get there. Ethan starts out as a morally superior person, who is forced - through love of his family, and the wish to give them what they most desire (materially) - sells himself out for monetary gain and social position.

I also loved the writing style of this book. Ethan's narrative, while sometimes rambling, was brilliant to read, and in it, Steinbeck struck at the heart of many of America's ills. Truly brilliant book. ( )
  sammii507 | Aug 19, 2014 |
Ethan Allen Hawley is a former member of Long Island's aristocratic class. His family can trace its roots all the way back to the time of the Pilgrims; and he can count among his illustrious forebears sea-captains and men of property. He is an heir to the upright New England tradition.

Due to Ethan's late father losing the family fortune, Ethan now works as a grocery clerk in the same grocery store that his family once owned. With the decline in their social status, Ethan's wife, Mary, becomes restless, and his two teenage children are eager for the material comforts which Ethan can no longer provide. They resent their mediocre social and economic status, and do not value the honesty and integrity that Ethan struggles to maintain in the face of a morally corrupt society.

Growing increasingly jaded by what he views as the underhandedness, cheating and shady dealings that seems to permeate his town with regard to the acquisition of money and success, Ethan, in a moment of personal moral crisis, decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous code of ethics - confident that he will not become corrupted by his actions.

I did enjoy reading this book, although I must admit that initially I found the character of Ethan Allen Hawley slightly annoying. I eventually got more used to his manner and by about halfway through the book I was caught up in the flow of the plot. Overall, I thought that this was an interesting story. In my opinion, it certainly deserves to be classified as a classic, although personally, I may have preferred reading some of John Steinbeck's other works. I give this book an A! ( )
  moonshineandrosefire | Jul 29, 2014 |
Three years after reading this book I am getting ready to sell it and find that I can recall virtually nothing about it.
  ritaer | Jun 28, 2014 |
I was disappointed with this book. It was a much more focused character study than other Steinbeck novels I've read, and unfortunately for me I wasn't particularly drawn to the main character of Ethan Allen Hawley. Everyone else around him seemed merely to be propped up to help tell his story. Perhaps at the time it was published the book incisively reflected a change in society's morals and attitudes. However, Ethan's disaffected manner is commonplace today and, as such, did not appeal to me as a facet of human nature I wanted to explore in a novel published almost 50 years ago. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
What is a talisman? A traditional understanding of the word, derived from the Greek via the Arabic tilasm, refers to a religious rite, its completion, and the symbol such as an amulet of that rite. The power in a talisman is implicit in its association with religion and this seems to be the sense in which it is used in The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck's last completed novel published in 1961.

Perhaps I should have chosen as an epigraph the lines from Shakespeare's play, Richard III, "Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious by this Sun of York.", but Steinbeck's novel, while including these lines in both parts one and two, is much more complex than suggested by this allusion with many layers of meaning, allusions, and references both literary and religious. With a contemporary setting it is nonetheless steeped in the tradition of family and country. The protagonist, Ethan Allen Hawley, traces his own family tradition in America almost two centuries although the wealth of the Hawley's and their concomitant social standing has deteriorated over the years so much that, when the story opens, Ethan is a clerk in a small town grocery store. The store is owned by an Italian-American, Mr. Marullo, who was born in Italy. "It's the first time in history a Hawley was ever a clerk in a guinea grocery."(p 14)

Ethan's personal ethics lead him into a conflict with Marullo early in the story that generates an interchange that underlines the difference in their perspectives on family tradition: Ethan says, "Hawley's have been living here since the middle seveteen hundreds. You're a foreigner. You wouldn't know about that. We've been getting along with our neighbors and being decent all that time. If you think you can barge in from Sicily and change that. you're wrong." Marullo responds, putting Ethan in his place with these words, "You think Marullo is a guinea name, wop name, dago name. My genitori, my name, is maybe two, three thousand years old. Marullus is from Rome, Valerius Maximus tells about it. What's two hundred years?"(p 21)
For Ethan, upon reflection, this perspective "was the shocking perspective that makes a man wonder: If I've missed this, what else have I failed to see?"(p 22) That is the question, for Ethan is a man who fails to see a lot of things in this story of several months, momentous in some ways, in his life.

Ominously the story begins on Good Friday with all the symbolism entailed in the ceremony of Easter weekend. This begins a moral journey for Ethan, complete with literary allusions both to Dante's hell and to Morte d'Arthur. He faces dilemmas on the business front from suppliers and from his own belief that he must restore the social standing of the Hawley name. But on an even deeper, more personal note he faces another biblical question: Am I my brother's keeper? For his closest friend from and early age, Danny Taylor, needs his help even though Ethan "knows" that his help is unlikely to make any real difference in the direction of Danny's life. Danny's dilemma is presented with a slight allusion to Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Imp of the Perverse". The issue is raised by Poe and alluded to with the phrase, "you've raised my imp."(p 119)
Simply put: Why does a man who knows what is the right thing to do go ahead and do the wrong thing? Philosophers since Socrates have pondered this dilemma and while our increased understanding of our unconscious desires and the importance of the will may suggest some answers this is still a difficult issue; one that would bedevil Danny Taylor and perhaps Ethan as well.

These dilemmas blended with the vicissitudes of family life with his wife Mary and two children yield a richly woven and deeply thoughtful novel. It is one that raises questions, presents challenges and provides a believable story that enjoins the reader to question his own beliefs. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jan 26, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steinbeck, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Herman, Rein F.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shillinglaw, SusanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Silveira, BrennoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Readers seeking to identify the fictional people and places here described would do better to inspect their own communities and search their own hearts, for this book is about a large part of America today.
Dedication
To Beth, my sister, whose light burns clear
First words
When the fair gold morning of April stirred Mary Hawley awake, she turned over to her husband and saw him, little fingers pulling a frog mouth at her.
Quotations
You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Ethan Hawley is a war veteran, grocery store clerk, husband, and father, with much to say about Americans, consumerism, and the characters of his small seaside town. Themes of inadequacy, guilt, and deception are prominent as Ethan attempts to fulfill the expectations of his ancestors as well as his wife and children. "No one wants advice, only corroboration."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143039482, Paperback)

From a swashbuckling pirate fantasy to a meditation on American morality?two classic Steinbeck novels make their black spine debuts

IN AWARDING John Steinbeck the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Nobel committee stated that with The Winter of Our Discontent, he had ?resumed his position as an independent expounder of the truth, with an unbiased instinct for what is genuinely American.?

Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of the novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With the decline in their status, his wife is restless, and his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:44 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

From the Publisher: From a swashbuckling pirate fantasy to a meditation on American morality-two classic Steinbeck novels make their black spine debuts. In awarding John Steinbeck the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Nobel committee stated that with The Winter of Our Discontent, he had "resumed his position as an independent expounder of the truth, with an unbiased instinct for what is genuinely American." Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of the novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With the decline in their status, his wife is restless, and his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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