The Winter of Our Discontent - Critical Reception

Setting | Character Summaries| Plot Synopsis | Critical Reception


Most reviewers of The Winter of Our Discontent responded favorably to the novel, yet Steinbeck was still perturbed by its reception: “The reviews of Winter have depressed me very much. They always do, even the favorable ones, but this time they have sunk me particularly” (Life in Letters 698). He thought he had taken a new direction with this novel, having incorporated so many influences – literary, biblical, historical – and hardly any of the critics commented on these elements. Instead, they focused on the plot and the obvious moral crisis of Ethan Hawley. Many of the reviews went something like this one from the Bristol Evening Post: “By his own high standards this is not a great book, merely a very good one.”

Perhaps The New Yorker summarized the book best: “A symbolic novel, an allegory, a parable, a tract—take your choice—that spends three hundred pages telling us that dishonesty breeds dishonesty.” Many reviews, such as William Hogan’s in theSan Francisco Chronicle, praised the novel as Steinbeck’s “most stimulating novel since ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’” One of the most frequent complaints about the novel was Steinbeck’s use of nicknames. In The New York Times review, Orville Prescott complained: “When comedy is the prevailing note, moral outrage is a difficult emotion to sustain in the face of the hero’s distracting habit of calling his wife by a whole series of pet names.”  William E. Wilson of The Journal Providencesaliently noted the book’s tone: “The bitter undertone of the novel is doubly effective because it comes as an aftertaste.”


Setting | Character Summaries| Plot Synopsis | Critical Reception