John Steinbeck's novels expressed an ecological world view that has only recently begun to accumulate proponents. This holistic view grew during an era when such thinking was unpopular, and one must wonder how this growth could have occurred in a climate which was hostile for it. Some investigation shows that the seeds for this view already existed in his childhood and were nurtured through his exposure to ideas in marine biology.
While growing up in Salinas, Steinbeck had the opportunity to spend a lot of time outdoors. His uncle used to take him on fishing trips, and combined with the times he visited his maternal grand-fathers' farm near King City, it undoubtedly gave him an appreciation for nature. Later in his life, he became a caretaker on a "large estate at Lake Tahoe," and he continued to spend time in nature throughout his life and often took his sons to go fishing or camping when they visited him during the summers (Steinbeck, E. & Wallsten, P.., 1975).
In addition to the time he spent outdoors, he was exposed to the farming community in the Salinas Valley. Even though his grandfather's farm could not sustain crops (Steinbeck, T., 1992), the whole community was dependent on the inter-connection of living creatures within the valley. The lives of these farmers and their future production always depended on the current production of the land.
When the crops were plentiful, the harvest would bring money and food and supplies for the next year's crop. Rain had an enormous impact on the farmers. Too much or too little could be devastating to their crops or the food supply of farm animals, and they affected the farmers who were dependent them....
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Steinbeck's view of the world, expressed through his novels, was set within an ecological framework. His childhood environments played a role in the creation of this view, and his subsequent exposure to marine biology contributed to and elaborated upon it. This led to his ability to view organisms in an environment as symbiotic relationships within a whole-a superorganism.
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A Life in Letters. New York: The Viking Press.
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