Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Winter of Our Discontent - John Steinbeck - Viking


Ethan Hawley is a store clerk in the store he used to own. He is a business failure in the small New England town his whaling ancestors use to dominate. Thanks to those ancestors he is still considered relevant, but that respect will not be passed on to his children unless he changes his life significantly. So he decides to rob the bank next door to finance his business comeback.

Taking a long, hard look at the world around him, at the growing commercialism, government cronyism, under the table deals Ethan puts aside his personal beliefs for a short time so that he can become a mover and shaker in the local business world. He weaves a plot to personal, financial security by manipulating people and events with a sure hand, a deft mind and a great sense of humor and self honesty.

For me the heart of the book is Ethan's justification for shelving his morals: “... But my objective was limited and, once achieved, I could take back my habit of conduct. I knew I could. War did not make a killer of me, although for a time I killed men. ...”

Do the ends justify the means? Do the means change the man? In Ethan Hawley's case the means does exact its toll.

Unlike most of Steinbeck's work The Winter of Our Discontent is accessible, entertaining and well worth your time. He is dead on in his examination of American capitalism, politics, and integrity. I believe the story more relevant now than when it was first published.

George W. Parker

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