Steinbeck's Paradox and Dreams: Contradictions of Human Aspirations

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4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Words: 619|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Paradox and dream, two seemingly contradictory concepts, are interwoven throughout John Steinbeck's works. Steinbeck's exploration of these themes reflects the complex nature of human aspirations and the often conflicting desires that drive individuals. In this essay, we will delve into Steinbeck's use of paradox and dreams, analyzing how they contribute to the overall meaning of his literature. Through a close examination of Steinbeck's works, we will uncover the implications of these contradictory elements and their significance in understanding the human condition.

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Steinbeck's ability to create paradoxical situations and characters is evident in his novel "Of Mice and Men." The central characters, George and Lennie, embody the paradox of dreams. On one hand, they share a dream of owning their own land, working for themselves, and escaping the hardships of their current lives. This dream serves as a beacon of hope and motivation for the characters, propelling them forward in their journey. However, this dream also presents a paradox. Despite their unwavering determination, the dream remains just out of reach, constantly eluding their grasp. This paradox of dreams, simultaneously inspiring and unattainable, highlights the harsh realities of the American Dream during the Great Depression.

Another example of paradox and dreams can be found in Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath." The Joad family, like George and Lennie, hold onto a dream of a better life. Their dream is to find work and stability in California, escaping the poverty and despair of the Dust Bowl. However, as they embark on their journey, they encounter numerous obstacles and hardships that challenge their dreams. The paradox lies in the fact that their dream of a better life is intricately tied to the dream of countless other migrants, resulting in fierce competition and exploitation. Steinbeck's portrayal of the Joads' struggle highlights the paradoxical nature of dreams, showing that the pursuit of a better life can often lead to disillusionment and despair.

Steinbeck also explores the paradox of dreams on a societal level. In his non-fiction work "America and Americans," he reflects on the paradoxical nature of the American Dream. He argues that the dream, rooted in the idea of individual success and prosperity, often comes at the expense of others. This paradox is evident in the stark contrast between the wealthy and the impoverished, the haves and the have-nots. Steinbeck's critique of the American Dream challenges the notion that hard work alone can guarantee success, exposing the inherent contradictions within the dream itself.

Furthermore, Steinbeck's use of paradox and dreams extends beyond individual and societal contexts. In his novella "The Pearl," the protagonist Kino dreams of finding a valuable pearl that will bring him and his family wealth and happiness. However, this dream quickly turns into a nightmare as the pearl brings nothing but destruction and tragedy. The paradox lies in the fact that Kino's dream, initially driven by hope and optimism, ultimately leads to his downfall. Steinbeck's exploration of the paradox of dreams in "The Pearl" highlights the unpredictability and inherent dangers of pursuing one's desires.

In conclusion, John Steinbeck's works consistently explore the themes of paradox and dreams, shedding light on the contradictions and complexities of human aspirations. Through his characters and narratives, Steinbeck reveals the dual nature of dreams – simultaneously inspiring and unattainable, hopeful and destructive. His portrayal of the American Dream and its inherent paradoxes challenges conventional notions of success and exposes the harsh realities faced by individuals and society. By delving into Steinbeck's literature, we gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies of human desires and the often contradictory nature of our dreams.


Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Penguin Books, 1993.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. Penguin Books, 2002.

Steinbeck, John. America and Americans. Penguin Books, 2002.

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Steinbeck, John. The Pearl. Penguin Books, 2000.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Steinbeck’s Paradox and Dreams: Contradictions of Human Aspirations. (2024, Jun 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from
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Steinbeck’s Paradox and Dreams: Contradictions of Human Aspirations. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Jul. 2024].
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