John Steinbeck (1902-1968), born in Salinas, California, came from a family of moderate means. He worked his way through college at Stanford University but never graduated. In 1925, he went to New York, where he tried for a few years to establish himself as a free-lance writer, but he failed and returned to California. After publishing some novels and short stories, Steinbeck first became widely known with Tortilla Flat (1935), a series of humorous stories about Monterey paisanos. Steinbeck's novels can all be classified as social novels dealing with the economic problems of rural labour, but there is also a streak of worship of the soil in his books, which does not always agree with his matter-of-fact sociological approach.
Throughout high school and college, Steinbeck took summer jobs working as a ranch hand. These jobs were extremely important to his literary career. Memories of his work on ranches would furnish the background for Of Mice and Men. John Steinbeck’s grandparents owned ranches in the King City area and in Hollister. Samuel and Eliza Hamilton, his mother’s parents, owned a ranch in the hills east of King City, the southern part of the Salinas Valley. John Steinbeck spent a part of every summer at this ranch, doing chores, taking care of the animals, and exploring the land.
A typical day for ranch children began at 5:00 AM. Certain chores needed to be completed before the family and ranch hands had breakfast, including hauling water from the well, feeding the horses, and collecting wood for the stove. The children then walked to school. Some attended a one-room schoolhouse with a teacher, while others gathered at a neighbouring ranch to be taught by mothers and relatives. The children were at school for about four hours before returning home to work on the ranch. The younger children fed and cared for the chickens, goats, or pigs. Older children, about 14 years or older, worked with the adults to harvest the crops or herd the cows. Older girls usually took care of their younger siblings while the adults worked in the fields or the livestock.
Ranch families would travel to the nearest town to purchase supplies and tools, go to church, and visit family members. The frequency of these trips depended on how far away they were from town. For example, ranchers in Big Sur would only go to town once every three to six months, depending on the weather and their needs. For many families, this trip took an entire day or longer. Ranchers also received supplies from travelling salesmen, livestock traders, migrant labour, and veterinarians. There were two types of ranches that existed in the Salinas Valley in the 1920s/30s: these ranches could be distinguished from each other by their location in the valley. The first type was located low on the green fertile valley floor. Hill ranches, the second type, were usually nestled up higher in the rocky and dusty terrain of the foothills of the surrounding mountains.
The ranches on the valley floor were characteristically agricultural since they had more water. The rich soil and mild year-round climate lent itself to raising the lettuce and vegetables that the Salinas Valley is famous for. The ranch in The Red Pony was modelled after the second type of ranch, the hill ranch. Hill ranches were primarily interested in the cattle industry. Since there was often a shortage of water at the higher elevations, the hill-ranchers raised cattle instead of the thirsty crops that lined the valley floor. These ranches were usually quite a bit further from town than the valley floor ranches, and this added to the hardships brought on by drought years and supply shortages. THE GREAT DEPRESSION & THE DUST BOWL
The Great Depression was the great economic crisis that is said to have been started because of the U.S. stock-market crash in 1929. The prices on the Wall Street stock market fell a lot from October 24 to October 29, 1929. Many...