John Steinbeck Why Soldiers Won't Talk Research Paper

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John Steinbeck, why soldiers won't talk.

"Why soldiers won't talk:"

John Steinbeck's imaginative essay on the psychological impact of war

One of the most interesting aspects of John Steinbeck's essay "Why Soldiers Won't Talk" is the way in which he subtly shifts from the first person to the second person in the essay. He begins the essay stating that he himself is not a soldier: "During the years between the last war and this one, I was always puzzled by the reticence of ex-soldiers about their experiences in battle" (Steinbeck 1). However, according to Steinbeck, gradually he has come to understand why soldiers struggle to articulate the horrors they have seen. Then, the essay makes a major shift from 'I' to 'you': "This is how you feel after a few days of constant firing. Your skin feels thick and insensitive. There is a salty taste in your mouth" (Steinbeck 1). Steinbeck asks the reader to identify with the soldier as if he or she were in combat. This was typical of many of Steinbeck's imaginative exercises as a writer. The acclaimed author of texts such as Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck frequently encouraged readers to personally identify with protagonists meant to symbolize larger aspects of the human condition.

John Steinbeck was born in 1902 in a California farming town to a mother who was a former teacher and a father who was employed a variety of jobs over the course of his life, including working as the owner of a feed and grain store. Steinbeck was accepted to Stanford University but he never graduated. "Writing was, indeed, his passion, not only during the Stanford years but throughout his life. From 1919 to 1925, when he finally left Stanford without taking a degree, Steinbeck dropped in and out of the University, sometimes to work closely with migrants and bindlestiffs on California ranches. Those relationships, coupled with an early sympathy for the weak and defenseless, deepened his empathy for workers, the disenfranchised, the lonely and dislocated, an empathy that is characteristic in his work" (Shillinglaw 1). Over the course of the next ten years, Steinbeck would begin to refine his prose, focusing on migrant workers as well as the relationship of human beings to the land. His most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath, makes use of similar literary conventions as...
...Although the book focuses on the family, throughout the narrative it takes a number of detours, such as one chapter in which the family is not featured at all. Steinbeck depicts a prosperous diner where a group of hungry people come begging to buy a loaf of bread for a dime. The waitress is initially harsh to them (representing the attitude of many Americans to the poor, even during the Depression) but eventually softens, gives them the bread and even sells nickel candy to the children for a penny (Steinbeck 156-159). The rest of the book does not 'follow' these people: rather the camera of the author 'pans out' to show how the Joads are not unique but are symbolic of a larger social problem.

Steinbeck has, above all, been called a novelist intent upon depicting his environment. Professor Susan Shillinglaw praises "Steinbeck's awareness of an essential bond between humans and the environments they inhabit...His conviction that characters must be seen in the context of their environments remained constant throughout his career" (Shillinglaw 1). Although "Why Soldiers Won't Talk" is not an explicitly California-based novel, nor is about farmers like The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men, it demonstrates how history and the environment can permanently impact the psyche of soldiers. Steinbeck has been called a social activist as an author because of his belief in the interrelated relationship between human beings and the world that creates them. Being a soldier is created by the environment -- even the heroism and bravery that soldiers are so often complimented on. "In the dullness all kinds of emphases change. Even the instinct for self-preservation is dulled so that a man may do things which are called heroic when actually his whole fabric of reaction is changed. The whole world becomes unreal" (Steinbeck 1). Steinbeck…

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Works Cited

Shillinglaw, Susan. "John Steinbeck, American Writer." Steinbeck Center.

1 Jan 2014.

This biography is a summary of John Steinbeck's life, with a particular emphasis on how his life events shaped his works. There is a stress upon how Steinbeck's identity as a Californian influenced his major literary works and the role of the environment in creating the characters. Steinbeck believed that environment created a man's character, not vice versa.

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