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Travels With Charley at Age 60    

Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The great American novelist John Steinbeck was born in 1902 and died in 1968 – the same year a wave of radicalism perfumed across the world; from the revolutionary upheavals in France to the anti-Vietnam war protests which were exploding across the US, from the Civil Rights movement to the Prague Spring.   Steinbeck himself had come of age as a novelist some decades before, in the context of another great historical shift – the depression era dust-bowl migrations which saw vast swathes of rural poor take to their caravans and carts, seeking out the brighter horizons of the Californian coast.

Steinbeck’s greatest novel, The Grapes of Wrath, was infused with this spirit of historical change; the desperation, hope and courage of the poverty-stricken who have taken to the road, as the thunder rumbles in the darkness above, and the conditions of their former existence fade into the past.  Steinbeck’s novel was a masterful, searing and tragic depiction, not simply because he felt, with an artist’s intuition, something of the great change which was moving through society and uprooting all the traditional certainties of yore, but also because he understood to a tee the spirit and psychology of those individuals who were swept up in it.

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