"If an author does not have at least one great popular success, he or she may well be ignored by the media, but if he or she is constantly popular, then the critics become suspicious of the writer's serious intentions" (Benson Introduction). What do critics from the literary world have to say about Steinbeck's writings? Critics have much to say, both positive and negative. What link exists between Steinbeck and his writings? Perhaps the most noteworthy biographical link between Steinbeck and his writings is that he was born and came to maturity in the Salinas Valley. In this area of California, bounded on the north and south by the Pajaro and Jolon valleys on the west and east by the Pacific Ocean and the Gabilan Mountains, Steinbeck found the materials for his fiction (Tedlock 3). John Steinbeck's agricultural upbringing in the California area vibrantly shines through in the settings and story lines of the majority of his works. .
John Ernst Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, on February 27, 1902. His father's family, originally called Grossteinbeck, had come from Wuppertal, about twenty miles east of the German city of Dusseldorf. During summers he worked as a hired hand on nearby ranches, "nourishing" his impression of the California countryside and its people (Lisca 32). He made occasional exciting trips to San Francisco with his family and more frequent trips to the Monterey peninsula (Fontenrose 2). In 1918, he became ill with pneumonia and almost died, but he was able to recover. After graduating from Salinas High School in 1919, Steinbeck enrolled at Stanford University, taking courses in English and Marine Science (Bloom 11). He was always an excellent student, eager to learn both in and out of school, interested in books, music, science, religion, and sports (Fontenrose 3). During this time, he worked as a sales clerk, farm laborer, ranch hand, and factory worker, and left Stanford permanently in the fall of 1925 without a degree (Fontenrose 3).