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The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)

by John Steinbeck

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,4231001,939 (3.95)1 / 299
Ethan Hawley, a descendant of proud New England sea captains, works as a clerk in the grocery store owned by an Italian immigrant. His wife is restless, his teenaged children are troubled and discontented, 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)
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» See also 299 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
Memorable and evocative novel of a man's declining life. ( )
  sfj2 | May 8, 2024 |
Endiselt täiesti briljantne. Ja ikka veel leian ma sealt asju, mida pole varem näinud ... või märganud :) ( )
  sashery | Jan 29, 2024 |
John Steinbeck’s novels are pure class in writing style and construction of people, images and worlds. Yet they are all eerily familiar, even fifty years later. People are still lying and doing the dodgy on each other. Everyone wants more money, a better job and some time away from the kids. The Winter of Our Discontent is a timeless tale about money, greed and trying to be honest when everyone else is getting ahead by being deceitful.

Initially the reader is introduced to Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist, in the third person. After a couple of chapters, the story is told from Ethan in the first person. This unusual style repeats itself in part two of the novel. Normally that would annoy me but in this novel, it just works. We get the bigger, unbiased picture of a small town past its glory days, before honing in on perhaps the last honest man in town. Ethan is from a whaling family, whose fortunes started to turn when their boat burned in suspicious circumstances. He still has the big house, but he lost the store he owned after World War II. Now he works in that grocery store for an Italian owner, and his family don’t have a car or television. His wife feels their poverty but doesn’t really let on. Ethan’s children however feel the lack of material wealth and let his know it. Ethan is at heart an honest man, but he feels pushed to try to turn things around. He sets off a chain of events that will change things for him and the town and are all morally shades of grey. These include a quick call to immigration and giving his former best friend, now a drunk, a lot of money for a deal that cut out the dishonest, rich people in town. Ethan even plans a robbery on the bank but is thwarted at the last minute. It’s fascinating to think whether he was just after the money, or revenge on the bank manager whose family may have destroyed the Hawley’s ship and is part of the dishonesty amongst the town’s elite.

Despite setting these events in motion, Ethan does his darndest to remain honest. He knocks back advances to undercut his boss and sleep with his wife’s friend. He struggles with what the line to cross is for dishonesty, and what is required to keep his family happy and content. And how is it different or worse to what others are doing? And what would have happened anyway? What breaks Ethan is when his son benefits from his own dishonesty but states to his father that it doesn’t matter because everybody does it.

The novel is an interesting commentary on the level of deceit people are willing to partake in and how much leaves them still comfortable with their conscience. For Ethan, it’s not that much and for his boss, it makes him tired of running. Yet others seem to have no limit to what they will do to get ahead and stay ahead of the pack. Some are willing to call it out or at least make suggestions that they know what’s going on. Others are happy to let ethics slide if it doesn’t bother them. It’s quite different to Steinbeck’s earlier novels but it still packs a punch today, raising questions of duty to others and most of all, self.

http://samstillreading.wordpress.com ( )
  birdsam0610 | Sep 30, 2023 |
This reads like a great screenplay to me. While main character is male, I see great potential for female actors here. ( )
  rebwaring | Aug 14, 2023 |
This, I think, was much more deep and metaphoric than I realized when I read it. ( )
  mykl-s | Aug 13, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Steinbeckprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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Ethan Hawley, a descendant of proud New England sea captains, works as a clerk in the grocery store owned by an Italian immigrant. His wife is restless, his teenaged children are troubled and discontented, 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.

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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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