“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.”

“In this a journey is like marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

“The techniques of opening conversation are universal.  I knew long ago and rediscovered that the best way to attract attention, help, and conversation is to be lost.”

“Who doesn’t like to be a center for concern?  A kind of second childhood falls on so many men.  They trade their violence for the promise of a small increase of life span.”

“I knew that ten or twelve thousand miles driving a truck, alone, and unattended, over every kind of road, would be hard work, but to me it represented the antidote for the poison of the professional sick man.”

“I wish I could like submarines, for then I might find them beautiful, but they are designed for destruction, and while they may explore and chart the sea bottom, and draw new trade lines under the Arctic ice, their main purpose is threat.”

“Of course his horizons are limited, but how wide are mine?”

“The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use.  In this, if in no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, and waste seems to be the index…I do wonder whether there will come a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness…”

“I poured him a cup of coffee.  It seems to me that coffee smells even better when the frost is in.”

“And that’s what I found all over the country – no arguments, no discussion.”

“My grandfather knew the number of whiskers in the Almighty’s beard.  I don’t know what happened yesterday, let alone tomorrow.”

“And now a force was in hand how much more strong, and we hadn’t had time to develop the means to think, for man has to have feelings and then words before he can come close to thought and, in the past at least, that has taken a long time.”

“And finally, in our time a beard is the one thing a woman cannot do better than a man, or if she can her success is assured only in a circus.”

“I began to formulate a new law describing the relationship of protection to despondency.  A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”

“Then the rain stopped falling and the trees dripped and I helped to spawn a school of secret dangers.”

“It occurs to me that, just as the Carthaginians hired mercenaries to do their fighting for them, we Americans bring in mercenaries to do our hard and humble work.”

“And I am sure that, as all pendulums reverse their swing, so eventually will the swollen cities rupture like dehiscent wombs and disperse their children back to the countryside.  This prophecy is underwritten by the tendency of the rich to do this already.  Where the rich lead, the poor will follow, or try to.”

“In literary criticism the critic has no choice but to make over the victim of his attention into something the size and shape of himself.”

“He put my sins in a new perspective.  Whereas they had been small and mean and nasty and best forgotten, this minister gave them some size and bloom and dignity.   I hadn’t been thinking very well of myself for some years, but if my sins had this dimension there was some pride left.  I wasn’t a naughty child but a first rate sinner, and I was going to catch it.”

“I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments, and nowhere is my natural anarchism more aroused than at national borders where patient and efficient public servants carry out their duties in matters of immigration and customs.”

“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.”

“I had neglected my country for too long.  Civilization had made great strides in my absence.”

“The food is oven-fresh, spotless and tasteless; untouched by human hands.  I remembered with an ache certain dishes in France and Italy touched by innumerable human hands.”

“I like the truckers very much, as I always like specialists.”

“I can only suspect that the lonely man peoples his driving dreams with friends, that the loveless man surrounds himself with lovely loving women, and that children climb through the dreaming of the childless driver.”

“Roots were in ownership of land, in tangible and immovable possessions.  In this view we are a restless species with a very short history of roots, and those not widely distributed.  Perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need.  Maybe the great urge, the deeper and more ancient is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else.”

“She knew exactly what she wanted and he didn’t, but his want would ache in him all his life.  After he drove away in his jeep I lived his life for him and it put a mist of despair on me.  He wanted his pretty little wife and he wanted something else and he couldn’t have both.”

“And I thought how every safe generality I gathered in my travels was canceled by another.  In the night the Bad Lands had become Good Lands.  I can’t explain it.  That’s how it was.”

“Montana has a spell on me.  It is grandeur and warmth.  If Montana had a seacoast, or if I could live away from the sea, I would instantly move there and petition for admission.  Of all the states it is my favorite and my love.”

“I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.”

[upon returning to his hometown, Silinas, CA] “I looked down the line of faces.  “Yes, here it is better.  But can I live on a bar stool?  Let us not fool ourselves.  What we knew is dead, and maybe the greatest part of what we were is dead.  What’s out there is new and perhaps good, but it’s nothing we know.”

“If Carmel’s founders should return, they could not afford to live there, but it wouldn’t go that far.  They would be instantly picked up as suspicious characters and deported over the city line.”

“When I went away I had died, and so became fixed and unchangeable.  My return caused only confusion and uneasiness.  Although they could not say it, my old friends wanted me gone so that I could take my proper place in the patter of remembrance – and I wanted to go for the same reason.  Tom Wolfe was right.  You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.”

“I printed it once more on my eyes, south, west, and north, and then we hurried away from the permanent and changeless past where my mother is always shooting a wildcat and my father is always burning his name with his love.”

“At night in this waterless air the stars come down just out of reach of your fingers.  In such a place lived the hermits of the early church piercing to infinity with unlittered minds.  The great concepts of oneness and of majestic order seem always to be born in the desert.  The quiet counting of the stars, and observation of their movements, came first from desert places.  I have known desert men who chose their places with quiet and low passion, rejecting the nervousness of the watered world.  These men have not changed with the exploding times except to die and be replaced by others like them.”

“There is a nourishment in the desert for myth, but myth must somewhere have its roots in reality.”

“The desert, being an unwanted place, might well be the last stand of life against unlife.”

“Thus it remains that I am basically unfitted to take sides in the racial conflict.  I must admit that cruelty and force exerted against weakness turns me sick with rage, but this would be equally true in the treatment of any weak by any strong.”

[of school integration protesters]  “Perhaps that is what made me sick with weary nausea.  Here was no principle good or bad, no direction.  These blowzy women with their little hats and their clippings hungered for attention.  They wanted to be admired.  They simpered in happy, almost innocent triumph when they were applauded.  Theirs was the demented cruelty of egocentric children, and somehow this made their insensate beastliness much more heartbreaking.  These were not mothers, not even women.   They were crazy actors playing to a crazy audience.”


copyright 1962 John Steinbeck
author bio:  https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1962/steinbeck-bio.html
photo:  National Steinbeck Center