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American writer (1902-1968)

I wonder how many people I've looked at all my life and never seen.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Winter of Our Discontent

Oh, we can populate the dark with horrors, even we who think ourselves informed and sure, believing nothing we cannot measure or weigh. I know beyond all doubt that the dark things crowding in on me either did not exist or were not dangerous to me, and still I was afraid.

JOHN STEINBECK, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

My dreams are the problems of the day stepped up to absurdity, a little like men dancing, wearing the horns and masks of animals.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Winter of Our Discontent

To finish is sadness to a writer—a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn't really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Paris Review, fall 1975

The free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for it is the one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.


We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God.
Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life or death of the whole world — of all living things.
The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand.
Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have.

JOHN STEINBECK, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Dec. 10, 1962

I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.


Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.

JOHN STEINBECK, Quote Magazine, Jun. 18, 1961

His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.


Man, unlike anything organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Grapes of Wrath

It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There's a punishment for it, and it's usually crucifixion.


A question is a trap, and an answer your foot in it.

JOHN STEINBECK, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?


Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.

JOHN STEINBECK, Sweet Thursday

We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — "Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought."

JOHN STEINBECK, "In Awe of Words," The Exonian, 1930

It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them.


In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.

JOHN STEINBECK, New York Times, Jun. 2, 1969

Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in art, in music, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.


A book is like a man — clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.

JOHN STEINBECK, "On Publishing," Writers at Work

It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Winter of Our Discontent

Certain events such as love, or a national calamity, or May, bring pressure to bear on the individual, and if the pressure is strong enough, something in the form of verse is bound to be squeezed out.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Paris Review, fall 1975

No one who is young is ever going to be old.


If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.

JOHN STEINBECK, letter to Adlai Stevenson, Nov. 5, 1959

It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.

JOHN STEINBECK, Sweet Thursday

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.... In other words, I don’t improve, in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable.

JOHN STEINBECK, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then — the glory — so that a cricket song sweetens the ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished.


I guess this is why I hate governments. It is always the rule, the fine print, carried out by the fine print men. There's nothing to fight, no wall to hammer with frustrated fists.

JOHN STEINBECK, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

People like you to be something, preferably what they are.


No one wants advice, only corroboration.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Winter of our Discontent

All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal.

JOHN STEINBECK, introduction, Once There Was a War

Such is the prestige of the Nobel award and of this place where I stand that I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practiced it through the ages.

JOHN STEINBECK, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Dec. 10, 1962

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.

JOHN STEINBECK, interview with Robert van Gelder, Apr. 1947

It is usual that the moment you write for publication—I mean one of course—one stiffens in exactly the same way one does when one is being photographed. The simplest way to overcome this is to write it to someone, like me. Write it as a letter aimed at one person. This removes the vague terror of addressing the large and faceless audience and it also, you will find, will give a sense of freedom and a lack of self-consciousness.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Paris Review, fall 1975

I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.

JOHN STEINBECK, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.


It has always seemed strange to me ... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success.


What a frightening thing is the human, a mass of gauges and dials and registers, and we can read only a few and those perhaps not accurately.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Winter of Our Discontent

Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.

JOHN STEINBECK, introduction, Of Mice and Men (1994 edition)

No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Winter of Our Discontent

Give a critic an inch, he’ll write a play.

JOHN STEINBECK, "On Critics," Writers at Work

The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.

JOHN STEINBECK, "In Awe of Words," The Exonian, 1930

Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts ... perhaps the fear of a loss of power.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Short Reign of Pippin IV

You ain't worth a greased lack pin to ram you into hell.


After the bare requisites to living and reproducing, man wants most to leave some record of himself, a proof, perhaps, that he has really existed. He leaves his proof on wood, on stone or on the lives of other people. This deep desire exists in everyone, from the boy who writes dirty words in a public toilet to the Buddha who etches his image in the race mind. Life is so unreal. I think that we seriously doubt that we exist and go about trying to prove that we do.

JOHN STEINBECK, The Pastures of Heaven

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