Literary Writing Style of John Steinbeck


Despite having won great popularity, John Steinbeck followed his usual style of being earnest and unpretentious in his writings. The characters show the true spirit of the writer, demonstrating their specific conversational speaking style. That is why his word choice, syntax, figurative language, rhythm, and themes are unusual and interesting, as given below.

John Steinbeck’s Word Choice

A cursory reading of the writings of John Steinbeck shows that he is not only particular but also very careful about the impacts of words. That is why he shows a great variation in his diction as shown in his novel The Pearl and The Grapes of Wrath. Whereas in some places, the language is quite formal and narrative, it is a dialect of the Joads at several other places. This passage from his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, shows it amply.

And why’s the son-of-a-bitch heat up so hot today? This ain’t no climb. Le’s look. God Almighty, the fan belt’s gone! Here, make a belt outa this little piece a rope. Le’s see how long—there. I’ll splice the ends. Now take her slow—slow, till we can get to a town. That rope belt won’t last long.
’F we can on’y get to California where the oranges grow before this here ol’ jug blows up. ’F we on’y can.

John Steinbeck’s Sentence Structure and Syntax

Regarding syntax, John Steinbeck is uncannily biblical. Even the words spoken by his humble characters such as the Joads raise their status due to this resemblance with the biblical stories. This becomes even more effective when the same repetition occurs with the same frequency. However, where the language is formal, the length and order of words in the sentences are appropriate and calculated. For example, this passage from The Grapes of Wrath shows it amply.

I don’ know what the country’s comin’ to,” the fat man continued. His complaint had shifted now and he was no longer talking to or about the Joads. “Fifty-sixty cars a folks go by ever’ day, folks all movin’ west with kids an’ househol’ stuff. Where they goin’? What they gonna do?

John Steinbeck’s Figurative Language

Steinbeck is the master of using literary devices. He has used metaphors and similes very carefully in his novel, The Pearl. For example, Kino uses different types of literary devices, including sound and poetic devices at some places. He has even called others by animal names. The same goes for the Joads. This short passage from The Grapes of Wrath shows how Steinbeck uses different figures of speech effectively.

Al flipped the radiator cap, and it jumped into the air with a head of steam behind it, and a hollow bubbling sound came out of the radiator. On top of the truck, the suffering hound dog crawled timidly to the edge of the load and looked over, whimpering, toward the water.

John Steinbeck’s Rhythm and Component Sounds

Although Steinbeck uses several devices to create rhythms, such as juxtaposition and personifications, he also depends on sound devices for the rhythmic flow of his prose.. These lines from The Grapes of Wrath show how he creates music in his prose. This passage shows the use of /h/, /d/ sounds with alliterative repetition of /h/ sound conjoined with the /w/ sound such as “his high” or “his head” or “was wet.”

Jim Casy had wet his head, and the drops still coursed down his high forehead, and his muscled neck was wet, and his shirt was wet. He moved over beside Tom. “It ain’t the people’s fault,” he said. “How’d you like to sell the bed you sleep on for a tankful a gas?

John Steinbeck’s Rhetorical Patterns

With some obvious devices, Steinbeck also uses rhetorical devices to make his writing strong. His rhetorical pattern depends on paradoxes and symbols rather than comparison and contrast through his narratives are strong in terms of description and argument as The Grapes of Wrath shows. There are several places where he has used exclamation marks and rhetorical questions to emphasize his main theme. Besides this, repetition is his main weapon to create rhetorical patterns such as this passage from The Grapes of Wrath shows the use of rhetorical questions.

“No, it’s more’n jus’ this place. Whyn’t that cat jus’ move in with some neighbors—with the Rances. How come nobody ripped some lumber off this house? Ain’t been nobody here for three-four months, an’ nobody’s stole no lumber. Nice planks on the barn shed, plenty good planks on the house, winda frames—an’ nobody’s took ’em. That ain’t right. That’s what was botherin’ me, an’ I couldn’t catch hold of her.”

John Steinbeck’s Themes

Although John Steinbeck happens to live in the post-WWI age., he has sketched his characters in such a way that they seem to be disillusioned with the American dream. The nature of man, loneliness, personal propensities, and even powerlessness in the face of economic suppression shows his dexterity in handling multiple themes within the same storyline, such as the situation of Joads shown it in The Grapes of Wrath.