Controversial Authors (Part 4)

I initially said that Part 3 of the Controversial Authors Series would likely be the final instalment, but I have since changed my mind.  It seems fairly likely that there will also be a Part 5, possibly next week.

John Steinbeck


(February 27th 1902 – December 20th 1968)

Notable works: Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden

Born in Salinas, California, John Steinbeck went on to become a prolific novelist and short-story writer, and one of the most acclaimed literary figures America has ever produced.  Steinbeck’s accolades include The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1940) and the Nobel Prize in Literature (1962).

Steinbeck was and still is, though to a lesser extent, regarded as a very controversial author.  Arguably his greatest work, The Grapes of Wrath, has been banned by many school-boards down the years.  The book was even burned on two separate occasions in the author’s home town of Salinas.  According to The American Library Association, Steinbeck was one of the ten most frequently banned authors from 1990 to 2004.

The author’s left-wing leanings are a reoccurring theme in much of his writing.  Steinbeck was very critical of capitalism and a supporter of unionisation, as witnessed in In Dubious Battle and The Grapes of Wrath.  Unionisation was highly controversial at the time of their publication, as it was viewed by many Americans as being inherently communist, a label incidentally often levelled at Steinbeck himself.

Steinbeck’s most famous book, The Grapes of Wrath, is about a poor family of Oklahoma sharecroppers, the Joads, driven from their land during the 1930s’ Dust Bowl and The Great Depression.  In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck advocates for the under-privileged, concentrating on social injustice, poverty and criticism of the nation’s economic plight, something that was fiercely debated at the time of its publication and beyond.

Click on the links to read my reviews of In Dubious Battle, The Wayward Bus and Sweet Thursday.

George Orwell


(June 25th 1903 – January 21st 1950)

Notable works: Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Born Eric Arthur Blair in British occupied India, author and journalist George Orwell was interested in social injustice, opposed to totalitarianism and committed to democratic socialism; ideals that resulted in the author often courting controversy, something which appears to have appealed to the opinionated writer.  So strongly was Orwell opposed to Fascism that he even volunteered to fight in The Spanish Civil War against the Fascists.  His experiences there gave rise to his book, Homage to Catalonia (1938).

Orwell’s most famous work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, a book that warned of totalitarian censorship, has been viewed as controversial since its publication due to its themes of nationalism, censorship and sexual repression.  The book was banned in Russia shortly after the translated version came out there, as it was deemed to be a thinly disguised attack on Stalin’s Soviet Union.  Ironically however in 1981, parents in Jackson County, Florida, challenged that the book was ‘pro-communist’ and contained ‘explicit sexual content.’

Animal Farm, a blend of animal fable and political satire was finished in 1944, but so controversial was the subject matter that it was not published until more than a year later, so concerned were the British government that the content would offend the country’s communist allies.  The book is widely viewed as being an attack on Stalin and his totalitarian rule.  Not surprisingly Animal Farm was banned in Soviet countries due to its perceived political content.  The book was often used for propaganda purposes by anti-communist factions in the U.S., something that concerned the author greatly.

It was not only his two most famous works that were viewed as being controversial.  Orwell’s portrayal of the life of English industrial workers, particularly coal-miners, in his book, The Road to Wigan Pier, was regarded as such at the time of its publication in the U.K.

Click on the links to read my reviews of The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London.

Click here to read Part 3.


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  • Both good choices. Over time it has been recognized that “communist” thoughts are no more than a quest for a government that deals with the masses. We have been able to polarize these thoughts into liberal and conservative points of view. Hardly anyone calls a liberal a communist anymore since we have become more sophisticated in out labels. Nice job.

  • Thanks for sharing Guy. I read both 1984 and Animal Farm many years ago, and they are both good books. I recently read Of Mice and Men as my daughter was studying it for her GSCE English Literature. Although she isn’t a prolific reader she really enjoyed that book. Although I was aware of the controversy surrounding Orwell’s work, I didn’t know any of Steinbeck’s story so it was interesting to find out.

    • I also studied Of Mice and Men for GSCE. It is a great introduction to Steinbeck though not one of my favourites. Hopefully your daughter will get to enjoy more of Steinbeck’s books. I didn’t know about the controversy surrounding Steinbeck either until very recently. Thank you for the comment.

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