I picked up The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck while sipping a spicy Bloody Mary on a cold crisp morning, expecting its setting to be winter. The novel occurs between Easter weekend and July 4th week in 1960, using the reference to winter from Shakespeare’s Richard III:
“Now comes the winter of our discontent, made glorious by this sun [or son] of York.”
This book is a moral character study of a man and his family living in a seaside town on Long Island, and the timeless economic concerns of families. Most of the book is from Ethan Allen Hawley’s point of view, in the first person. Steinbeck slips into third person at Part II and somewhere in the middle of the section switches back to first person again to provide an omniscient (all knowing) narrative. I like this type of novel and Steinbeck’s enduring style. Here he spends more space on the page writing a character’s thoughts in provoking prose, and less in action and dialogue. The last chapter leaves the reader wondering about the future of the main character.
Steinbeck told friends that he wrote this book as a commentary on the moral decline of American culture in the 1950s and 1960s. Initially, he was criticized for this, but some of his critics recanted following Watergate in the 1970s. This was the last novel that Steinbeck wrote before his death in 1968.
I’m a big John Steinbeck fan, and highly recommend this as one of his best novels. Go to your quiet place and read or listen to this one.