Reassessing John Steinbeck’s modernism: myth, ritual, and a land full of ghosts in “To a God Unknown”

Rebeca Gualberto


The aim of this paper is to reassess John Steinbeck’s presence and significance within American modernism by advancing a myth-critical reading of his early novel “To a God Unknown” (1933). Considering the interplay between this novel and the precedent literary tradition and other contextual aspects that might have influenced Steinbeck’s text, this study explores Steinbeck’s often disregarded novel as an eloquent demonstration of the malleability of myths characteristic of Anglo-American modernism. Taking myth-ritualism—the most prominent approach to myth at the time—as a critical prism to reappraise Steinbeck’s own reshaping of modernist aesthetics, this article examines recurrent frustrated and misguided ritual patterns along with the rewriting of flouted mythical motifs as a series of aesthetic choices that give shape and meaning to a state of stagnation common to the post-war American literary landscapes, but now exacerbated as it has finally spread, as a plague of perverse remythologization, to the Eden of the West.


John Steinbeck; Modernism; myth-criticism; myth and ritual; American literature; “To a God Unknown”

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