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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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3,593691,467 (3.91)1 / 233
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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Ethan Hawley is a grocery store clerk in 1960s New Baytown, a coastal town that had prospered during the height of the whaling industry but was a quiet place in 1960. Ethan is married, has two children, and his family lives a fairly humble life – they live in the family home and they have enough food to eat, but no money for a car or a TV. Earlier generations of the Hawley family were wealthy, upper class town founders who owned many properties, but Ethan’s father lost all of their wealth on bad investments. Ethan is a kind, honest man with high scruples, and he seems content with his lot. Ethan’s wife, Mary, and his children, Allen and Ellen, are resentful of their meager lifestyle. On a particular day, Ethan deals with confrontations from the town’s banker, who calls him a coward, basically, for not taking financial risks with his wife’s recent inheritance, and from his family members, who each take the time to let him know in a stinging fashion how dissatisfied they are with their lot and with his lack of action to improve their finances. These events, and a calculated fortune-telling reading by his wife Mary’s friend Margie, are the catalysts that push Ethan to take some actions that send him down a path that lacks his former integrity. What is he willing to risk in order to obtain the positions of status and wealth his family wants so much?

Stories with this level of intricacy, subtlety, and quality are not common. I guess that’s why they call them classics—they’ve withstood the test of time. This is the story of the internal workings of the mind of Ethan Hawley – how outside stimuli and events affect his psyche. The other characters in the book are all well-developed too. It is a quiet story, a slow burn – it’s not a book of action, it’s a book of introspection. It concentrates mostly on the ideas of morality, class, family history, and what it takes to be a “success” in our society. Ethan has a quirky, witty sense of humor that keeps the book interesting rather than it being dusty or boring. I really enjoyed it, and found myself reading passages of it to my husband, who is interested enough to want to read it next. I also found myself thinking about Jon Ronson’s non-fiction book, The Psychopath Test, when I was reading this, because elements of his theory of what it takes to be a successful business person show up in this story too. I recommend it as a thoughtful, interesting story of a man’s inner struggle with his morality. ( )
  kimberwolf | Jan 16, 2016 |
"Can a man think out his life, or must he just tag along?"

Indeed, do we have the will to choose or are we victims of environment and circumstance? Written in masterful prose and the last of Steinbeck's work published before his death, he gives us Ethan, an essentially "good" man faced with a number of moral choices throughout. Narrated mostly in the first person, we get a firsthand view into a mind that churns constantly over which path to take and why. Having come from a prominent family whose fortunes were lost by his father, Ethan decides that a temporary disregard of his moral compass may be worth it, if it means a better life for his wife and children. Set around 1960, Steinbeck also wanted to convey a picture of moral disintegration in the U.S., that people were happy to be "eaters" or consumers at the lowest possible personal cost and with little regard to the ethical cost.

In his late night cogitation, Ethan converses with his long passed sea captain grandfather. When he asked the "old Cap'n" for guidance, he replied, "You'll have to work it out yourself. What's good for one is bad for another, and you won't know till after." Ethan thought, "[t]he old bastard might have helped me then, but perhaps it wouldn't have made any difference. No one wants advice--only corroboration."

In the portrayal of our antihero, Ethan, other less than honorable town characters, and in Ethan's children, Steinbeck certainly saw mankind on a negative moral trajectory. Perhaps it was meant to be cautionary. At the end of the book, I still got the sense that life will go on, in spite of ourselves. ( )
  traumleben | Dec 30, 2015 |
I was really disappointed in this book. The story wasn't engaging, nor were the characters. I expected more, because I have really enjoyed the other Steinbeck books I have read as an adult. Steinbeck raised a lot of moral issues, which he does in all his books. However in this book, he seemed to be so focused on the moral tale that everything else was lost. ( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
This book irritated me slightly at first, because of those cute sweet talks between Ethan and his wife that felt so sticky, especially coming out of a writer like Steinbeck. Then I decided to get over that prejudice and plunged into the book, although it was a lot harder than his other books like Grapes of Wrath and his collection of short stories. Only after I finished the whole book, I saw the mastery with which Steinbeck has captured the realities of life, such as how Ethan betrays his Italian Employer, subtly manipulates his cousin to death in order to obtain the flatland for building airport, and how deftly Ethan turns the banker’s trick back on him, and ultimately, feeling miserable, tries to commit suicide in ‘his secret sacred place’. What’s really great is that Steinbeck leaves an impressionist fog over all this, leaving each reader to interpret the situations in her own way. A less skilled writer would have tried to make the situations too much clear, thus killing the lifelike quality of the story. ( )
  CorinneT | Jul 31, 2015 |
A classic! The audiobook reader has an ideal voice for the story. ( )
  JamesPaul977 | May 25, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steinbeck, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bianciardi, LucianoTranslatorsecondary authorsome 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:29 -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)

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