John Steinbeck and the Great Depression Thesis Proposal Example


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John Steinbeck has played a major role in the writings that were regionally taking place in parts of California during the Great Depression. What makes his works so vivid is that the reader feels as if they are physically there with his characters experiencing the era of the Great Depression. In reading Cannery Row, the reader can see a clear link to the Great Depression, Capitalism, and Creative economies because of the nature of the struggles that the characters are presented with.

For this reason, one could make the argument that John Steinbeck’s novels, in general, are dedicated to the local themes of the Great Depression and make an effort to portray what the character’s day-to-day struggles were to survive in the lower working classes of the United States at that time.

Pertaining to the theme of the Great Depression, John Steinbeck sets up his character’s roles to portray the different issues being faced by the locals during the era of the Great Depression, (Steinbeck, John, pg. 12). The character that best exemplifies this is Mac, who is a working class that tries to take short cuts just to get by in his day-to-day life. This ends up getting him into trouble and greatly demonstrates how the troubled times make it very difficult for those working difficult jobs to get ahead and to survive in general with basic needs. Even though one could make the argument that Mac is just someone who takes advantage of those around him, it is not entirely accurate because one has to ask the question of how he got into this position in the first place? Upon considering his character in this light, it also cycles back to the Great Depression argument as well.

Relating to Capitalism, a character that greatly exemplifies this Lee Chong because he is a business owner in a Capitalist market. For this reason, his presence symbolizes someone trying to make it in difficult times in a Capitalist market by owning a business, (Steinbeck, John, pg. 20). This is precisely why Lee Chong is such a great contrast to a character like Mac because Mac tries to get everything the easy way even though Lee Chong is going about his business venture in the “right way” that one should in a Capitalist system. This is an important contrast in the novel that also highlights two aspects of the Great Depression in that the Great Depression forced those who were fortunate to keep their business alive and those who had nothing to do everything they could to make life easier on themselves in a difficult economic situation.

Creative new economies are also a great theme in Cannery Row because the volatile economic situation caused other black markets to emerge that Steinbeck’s characters were engaged in. Mac and his boys also greatly demonstrate this because they had to find creative new ways to make income during hard times. While some of these sources of income were a bit dodgy for some, they were a means of getting by and that is how all of these subsequent economies began to flourish in that part of California during the Great Depression. Surely there are many that could make the counter argument that these elements in Steinbeck’s novel are not at all linked to the Great Depression, Capitalism or creative economies; however, given the nature of the story and when it was written, it is hard to make a counter argument here because Steinbeck’s writing is very localized and in a specific period of American history.

Since Steinbeck lived and was inspired by what he saw to write such characters, one can surely make the strong argument that these themes were absolutely prevalent in his novel Cannery Row.


  • Steinbeck, John. “Cannery Row.” Print. pgs. 1 – 181.
5 September, 2023

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