Encouragement vs. Despair: Steinbeck’s One Purpose in Writing

There is one purpose in writing that I can see, beyond simply doing it interestingly. It is the duty of the writer to lift up, to extend, to encourage.
“If the written word has contributed anything at all to our developing species and our half-developed culture, it is this: Great writing has been a staff to lean on, a mother to consult, a wisdom to pick up stumbling folly, a strength in weakness and a courage to support sick cowardice.
“And how any negative or despairing approach can pretend to be literature, I do not know.”
– John Steinbeck, “Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters”
Agree or disagree? Is the one purpose of writing to encourage, to lift up?

9 Replies to “Encouragement vs. Despair: Steinbeck’s One Purpose in Writing”

      1. it’s important to consider the source. grapes of wrath was hardly a fluffy moral piece, which, perhaps sadly, is what comes to mind now when i think of “encouraging writing.” when lesser voices aim at encouragement, it can ring false, you know?

        i love what matthew hyde says about writing as an act of grace. we do resonate with redemptive themes. maybe the sublime is where beauty and truth intersect.

    1. Great point about considering the source – I think “Grapes of Wrath” is a beautiful example, Suzannah, as is “East of Eden” or “Of Mice and Men.” Certainly not happy-go-lucky devotional pieces, yet truth somehow weaves in with redemption and encouragement.

      1. I think the source of encouragement in much of his work is in the piercing eye he casts on humanity, in both its depravity and its ability to soar on redemption and small acts of goodness. I tend to think of Rosasharn feeding the old man…

  1. Maybe it’s both. The telling of truth is vital to storytelling, but the moment it seeks to offer a way around that truth, to raise up, is the moment it goes beyond reportage and becomes an act of grace.

  2. I wonder if people who ascribe to a set of faith values find redemption, truth and encouragement of greater value than those who do not? I think, too, his point about negative or despairing works aiming to be literature says more about his writing ideals than a greater purpose for writing. And while I, too, am turned off by works that elevate depravity, this is his writing practice.

    And again, it matters how one defines these things.

  3. Of the three, I think his idea about extension has the most merit. We are really all connected in the end, all one. One mind .

    Good writing is usually met with this sense of connection. Often I think I have read the words somewhere before. Thats what I think extension means to me.

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