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Forum nameReading Challenges, 2010
Topic subject36. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
Topic URLhttp://www.fmwriters.com/community/dc/dcboard.php?az=show_topic&forum=505&topic_id=6&mesg_id=732
732, 36. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
Posted by alissaameth, Fri May-21-10 09:50 AM
Fiction, 311 pages.

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. It's told by the first person narrator Ethan Hawley, a man from a great family who now works as a grocery clerk in a store owned by an immigrant. His deceased father squandered the family wealth, leaving Ethan and his family worse off than the descendants of other great families in the area. His wife and children wish they had more material comforts, while Hawley often reflects on old family stories (e.g. about a sea captain and his ship, back in the day).

The story is very interesting when it comes to morals. Towards the beginning of the novel, Hawley is approached by various people who want to make shady deals with him, and he's more and more confronted with the idea that "everyone does it." For instance, a competing food supplier says they'll pay Hawley an extra 5% that he can pocket himself, if he'll order some of their food without letting the boss know. Someone else, in the interest of helping Hawley out, drops information about how the boss of the grocery might have some legal problems that could be taken advantage of... Hawley starts to think about these things, and thinks: "...my objective was limited and, once achieved, I could take back my habit of conduct. ... War did not make a killer of me, although for a time I killed men" (p. 226, beginning of Chapter XIV). The objective is to get more money.

The most interesting thing is that I'm not entirely sure Hawley ever commits any specific actions that are wrong or entirely dishonest. It's his thoughts that are dishonest. I can't really discuss this without ruining parts of the plot, so I'll leave it there.

Besides the narrator and his family, two particularly notable characters are Margie Young-Hunt and Danny Taylor. Margie is a mature woman who has had at least two husbands. She lives off of the money that her first husband sends her (based on an agreement at their divorce), and is one of those people that's always around. Most of the men in the town have slept with her, but she isn't seen as a slut. (Maybe the wives disagree?)

Danny Taylor, my favorite second character, is an alcoholic who lives on the street. He's got nothing to his name except for a piece of land that's been in his family forever. He and the narrator are like brothers: they grew up together and have both fallen from their families' heights. Hawley feels terrible every time he passes Danny, and wants to help him overcome his alcoholism. Danny, however, might not want to overcome it.

Overall, loved this book. It was an easy and relatively quick read. There's humor, sadness and moments that make the narrator feel great and moments that make him feel small. The ending was a surprise to me.