Use of Aphorisms in Steinbeck's "The Winter of Our Discontent"

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Use of Aphorisms in Steinbeck's "The Winter of Our Discontent"

By | November 2002
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In John Steinbeck's classic novel The Winter of Our Discontent, one can find many general truths and principles, also known as aphorisms. Ethan Allen Hawley, the main character, seems to gift the reader with another aphorism at the turn of every page, but some of these sayings may be considered more remarkable than others. One of the more noteworthy aphorisms is a statement made by Ethan at the end of chapter 6: "To be alive at all is to have scars".

While this may not be the theme that Steinbeck concentrates on the most, it is surely one of the most important. Ethan is the most prominent example of this, as he has suffered many misfortunes in his life. Every other mature character in the book also carries these emotional scars; scars on one's morality, character, and soul. Perhaps what the author was trying to convey is that from the moment one is born, one knows pain and suffering. However, many of these wounds heal with time, and become the scars of the past. Ethan compares the scars that his lack of morality will bring to the scars that his failure has produced, but the truth is that these are not scars at all, but injuries that time will not heal, and conscience will only make worse. His wounds will never mend, they will weigh down on him until drastic measures must be taken to escape the constant reminders of what he has done. Ethan considers and then nearly commits suicide, but he realizes that no matter what he has done, his daughter needs him above anything else. So he must go on living, scar after scar becoming layers upon layers of discontent on his heart.

Every human being on earth accumulates scars of this nature. From errors made in the past come forth blemishes on the soul that serve as permanent reminders of one's mistakes, and the scars provide maps to roads not to be taken again. The blunders from which the scars spring grant one learning experiences and lessons that might not be comprehended any other way. Ethan finally learns...

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