70 Great John Steinbeck Quotes

Last updated on May 5th, 2018

70 Great John Steinbeck Quotes

John Ernst Steinbeck (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American writer. Born in Salinas, California, Steinbeck spent most of his life in Monterey County. After dropping out of college (Stanford University), he worked as a manual laborer to support himself as a freelancer writer.

John Steinbeck is widely known for the comic novel Tortilla Flat (1935), novella Of Mice and Men (1937), and for the Pulitzer Prize-winning and his finest novel The Grapes of Wrath (1935). The Grapes of Wrath has sold more than 14 million copies in the past 75 years. In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Other significant works are Cannery Row (1945), In Dubious Battle (1936), The Red Pony (1937), and East of Eden (1952).

During his lifetime, Steinbeck wrote over twenty books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books, and several collections of short stories.


Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.Interview with Robert van Gelder (April 1947)


A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962)


The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.New York Times (June 2, 1969)


Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.The Short Reign of Pippin IV (1957)


The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.'In Awe of Words,' The Exonian, 75th anniversary edition, Exeter University (1930)


It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.Sweet Thursday (1954)


No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.New York Times (June 2, 1969)


The profession of book-writing makes horse-racing seem like a solid, stable business.Newsweek (December 24, 1962)


No one wants advice — only corroboration.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


A question is a trap and an answer is your foot in it.Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962)


All great and precious things are lonely.East of Eden (1952)


Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.Quote magazine (June 18, 1961)


Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.Sweet Thursday (1954)


Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.Nobel Prize acceptance speech (December 10, 1962)


People who are most afraid of their dreams convince themselves they don’t dream at all.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.East of Eden (1952)


A man is the only kind of varmint sets his own trap, baits it, and then steps in it.Sweet Thursday (1954)


If you’re in trouble or hurt or need — go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help — the only ones.The Grapes of Wrath (1939)


A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962)


It is a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.East of Eden (1952)


You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


Time is the only critic without ambition.'On Critics', Writers at Work (1977)


The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit — for gallantry in defeat — for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.Nobel Prize acceptance speech (December 10, 1962)


A little hope, even hopeless hope, never hurt anybody.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


For man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.The Grapes of Wrath (1939)


What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster.East of Eden (1952)


Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.As quoted by John Kenneth Galbraith in the Introduction to The Affluent Society (1977), John Kenneth Galbraith describes a chance meeting with Steinbeck in an airport in 1958.


The misery stayed, not thought about but aching away, and sometimes I would have to ask myself, Why do I ache? Men can get used to anything, but it takes time.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.Once There Was A War (1958)


A book is like a man — clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly.'On Publishing', Writers at Work (1977)


It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There’s a punishment for it, and it’s usually crucifixion.East of Eden (1952)


We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962)


To finish is sadness to a writer—a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn’t really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.The Art of Fiction No. 45, Interviewed by Nathaniel Benchley, The Paris Review No. 48, (fall 1969)


The free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.East of Eden (1952)


What a frightening thing is the human, a mass of gauges and dials and registers, and we can read only a few and those perhaps not accurately.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.Cannery Row (1945)


We’ve got so many laws you can’t breathe without breaking something.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


If the glory can be killed, we are lost.East of Eden (1952)


This monster of a land, this mightiest of nations, this spawn of the future, turns out to be the macrocosm of microcosm me.Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962)


When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you’ve got two new people. Maybe that means — hell, it’s complicated.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth.'On Intent', Writers at Work (1977)


In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.The Grapes of Wrath (1939)


Strength and success — they are above morality, above criticism. It seems, then, that it is not what you do, but how you do it and what you call it.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


There’s more beauty in the truth even if it is dreadful beauty.East of Eden (1952)


A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962)


We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it.America and Americans (1966)


Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the bastard Time.Sweet Thursday (1954)


We should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.East of Eden (1952)


To be alive at all is to have scars.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


Luck, you see, brings bitter friends.The Pearl (1947)


We are no better than the animals; in fact in a lot of ways we aren’t as good.The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951)


A man so painfully in love is capable of self-torture beyond belief.East of Eden (1952)


A man who tells secrets or stories must think of who is hearing or reading, for a story has as many versions as it has readers.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.East of Eden (1952)


All men are moral. Only their neighbors are not.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


Somewhere in the world there is defeat for everyone. Some are destroyed by defeat, and some made small and mean by victory. Greatness lives in one who triumphs equally over defeat and victory.The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976)


People like you to be something, preferably what they are.East of Eden (1952)


Not only the brave get killed, but the brave have a better chance at it.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


If lowborn men could stand up to those born to rule, religion, government, the whole world would fall to pieces.The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976)


Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.East of Eden (1952)


There’s nobody as lonely as an all-married man.The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)


An answer is invariably the parent of a great family of new questions.The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951)


In every bit of honest writing in the world… there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. Journal entry (1938), quoted in the Introduction to a 1994 edition of Of Mice and Men by Susan Shillinglaw


There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.East of Eden (1952)


No matter how good a man is, there’s always some horse can pitch him.The Red Pony (1937)


When a man says he does not want to speak of something he usually means he can think of nothing else.East of Eden (1952)


Failures dulled and the future was no threat. And hunger did not skulk about, but the world was soft and easy, and a man could reach the place he started for. The stars came down wonderfully close and the sky was soft. Death was a friend, and sleep was death’s brother.The Grapes of Wrath (1939)


No one who is young is ever going to be old.East of Eden (1952)