The Winter of Our Discontent

The Winter of Our Discontent

infobox Book |
name = The Winter of Our Discontent
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover
author = John Steinbeck
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = The Viking Press
release_date = 1961
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 311 pp
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Winter of Our Discontent" is a 1961 novel by John Steinbeck.

Plot introduction

The story revolves around New Englander Ethan Allen Hawley, who works as a clerk in a grocery store he used to own. His wife and kids resent their lowly social and economic position, and don't put any value in the high levels of honesty and integrity that Ethan struggles to maintain in a corrupt society. Under this constant pressure, Hawley will eventually manage to get back the store by renouncing his morals, but the new-found wealth will not bring happiness.

Explanation of the novel's title

The title is a reference to the phrase "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son [or sun] of York," from William Shakespeare's "Richard III".

Plot summary

Feeling the pressure from his family to achieve more than his current station, Ethan considers letting his normally high standards of conduct take a "brief" respite in order to attain a better social and economic position.

On discovering that the current store owner, Italian immigrant Alfio Marullo, might be an illegal alien, he first turns him into the Immigration and Naturalization Service and then deceives him in handing the store back to Hawley. Ethan also considers, plans and rehearses a bank robbery, stopping short of enacting it only because of external circumstances. Eventually, he even manages to become "somebody" in the local town by taking possession of a strip of land needed by local businessmen to build an airport; he'll get the land from Danny Taylor, the town drunkard and Ethan's childhood friend, in exchange for enough money to drink himself to death.

In this way, Hawley gets to a position where he's able to get in on and even manipulate and control the behind-the-scenes dealings of the corrupt town businessmen and politicians; no longer will he or his family want for anything. Ethan assuages his guilt by finding excuses: Marullo really wanted to get back to Sicily; Danny really wanted to die; Mr. Baker the banker is responsible for the decline in the family fortunes, and so on.When he discovers that his son won a nationwide essay contest by plagiarizing his beloved classic American authors, Ethan contemplates suicide. Only the thought of his daughter Ellen will stop him from doing it, because he hopes that she will be the one that will maintain the morals of honesty and integrity that he had to renounce.

Main characters in "The Winter of Our Discontent"

*Ethan Allen Hawley – a grocery clerk (the story's protagonist)
*Mary Hawley – Ethan's wife
*Allen and Ellen Hawley – his adolescent children
*Danny Taylor – Ethan's childhood friend and town drunk
*Joey Morphy – bank teller and town playboy
*Margie Young-Hunt – middle-aged seductress
*Mr. Baker – town accountant, owner of the town's bank
*Alfio Marullo – Italian immigrant owner of grocery store

Literary significance & criticism

Literary critics have dealt with "The Winter of Our Discontent" in a variety of ways; some have praised it as a Steinbeck classic while others have called the book a disappointing work. Some critics claim that the regular and somewhat sloppily constructed soliloquies of Ethan Hawley illustrate a lack of style. Throughout the book, Steinbeck tends to overtly tell the reader what characters are thinking rather than allowing the plot and structure of the novel to reveal their thoughts. In various letters to friends before and after the publication of "Winter", Steinbeck clearly states he wrote the novel to address the moral degeneration of American culture in the 1960s. Literary critics and scholars have condemned "Winter" for its poorly concealed moral emphasis, citing that the novel lacks the stylistic integrity of previous Steinbeck works.

Film adaptation

The novel was made into a television movie in 1983, starring Donald Sutherland as Ethan Hawley.

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