“If I could do this book properly it would be the really fine books and a truly American book. But I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability. I’ll just have to work from a background of these. Honesty. If I can keep an honesty it is all I can expect of my poor brain… If I can do that it will be all my lack of genius can produce. For no one else knows my lack of ability the way I do. I am pushing against it all the time.”
Taken from ‘Working Days’ (The Journal of John Steinbeck), entry June 18th 1938.
This was written by Steinbeck just 3 weeks into the novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. Not only do his words display an endearing vulnerability, but also double up as pearls of wisdom that throw a light into the psychological preparations, tribulations and confrontations a working novelist must encounter with every work he or she produces. Here he describes the ghost that ceaselessly haunts all authors, that is, the terrible fear that this time they may not be good enough. Steinbeck’s honesty is definitely a virtue that shines through in his writing. He is a very ‘human’ writer, and ‘Grapes of Wrath’ can be called his most startling work about a distinctive period in American history; one where the sufferers had no voice.
One one thinks of Steinbeck, we think of migrant workers, Salinas and the California dust-bowls. His name has become synonymous with that period of American history, mainly because he saw and wrote things from a workers’ point of view. He has preserved its particular lingua with his excellent ear for rustic conversation. When all is said and done, reflecting honesty is sometimes the only true goal a writer can have to fall back on.