Top 45 Classic Quotes from John Steinbeck’s Novels and Novellas

quotes from john steinbeck

The written word is powerful. Quotes from authors of the past offer a glimpse into how they perceived the world around them, providing a whole new worldview for us to explore.

One such person who had a way with words was John Steinbeck. Author of some iconic classics like The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, Steinbeck is someone who played a major role in shaping literary history. Take a look at some phenomenal quotes from John Steinbeck to catch a peek into his mind.

Who Is John Steinbeck?

John Steinbeck

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Born on February 27, 1902, John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. was a renowned American author. Steinbeck graduated in 1919 from Salinas High School and went to Stanford University to study English literature but dropped out in 1925 without earning his degree and instead chose to work as a freelance writer.

By 1929, John’s first novel, Cup of Gold, was published. This followed a litany of publications that would establish his name and prove his magic in the art of literature.

He gained global recognition for The Grapes of Wrath, a novel that earned him the Pulitzer Prize. Steinbeck’s writing career included 27 books, of which 6 were non-fiction, 16 novels, and 5 short story collections. He was even acclaimed as “the giant of American letters”.

He was known to be a fighter for social justice. He was also a social commentator, unafraid to share his thoughts regarding social issues.

Steinbeck passed away at the age of 66 in 1962. His works continue to be studied even today.

45 Quotes from John Steinbeck


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#1. “All great and precious things are lonely.
#2. “The weight of knowledge is too great for one mind to absorb.
#3. “My imagination will get me a passport to hell one day.
#4. “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.
#5. “There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.
#6. “I eat stories like grapes.
#7. “Don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
#8. “I know now why confusion in government is not only tolerated but encouraged. I have learned. A confused people can make no clear demands.
#9. “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.
#10. “It is the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him.
#11. “Socialism is just another form of religion, and thus delusional.
#12. “I guess this is why I hate governments, all governments. It is always the rule, the fine print, carried out by fine-print men. There’s nothing to fight, no wall to hammer with frustrated fists.
#13. “Some people think it’s an insult to the glory of their sickness to get well.
#14. “Some men are friends with the whole world in their hearts, and there are others that hate themselves and spread their hatred around like butter on hot bread.
#15. “Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.
#16. “A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid anymore.
#17. “People like you to be something, preferably what they are.
#18. “It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils since we invented them.
#19. “To be alive at all is to have scars.
#20. “It has always seemed strange to me… 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 product of the second.
#21. “Maybe everybody in the whole damn world is scared of each other.
#22. “I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.
#23. “I guess there are never enough books.
#24. “There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.
#25. “No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.
#26. “A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.
#27. “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
#28. “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.
#29. “I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one… Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil…There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well — or ill?
#30. “And this I must fight against any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for this is the one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system.
#31. “It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.
#32. “All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.
#33. “A man so painfully in love is capable of self-torture beyond belief.
#34. “A woman holds dreadful power over a man who is in love with her, but she should realize that the quality and force of his love is the index of his potential contempt and hatred.
#35. “I believe that love cannot be bought except with love.
#36. “There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.
#37. “It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.
#38. “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?
#39. “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.
#40. “When a man says he does not want to speak of something he usually means he can think of nothing else.
#41. “It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure on the world.
#42. “If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need — go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help — the only ones.
#43. “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.
#44. “We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it.
#45. “I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that, basically, dogs think humans are nuts.

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