190 John Steinbeck Quotes on Poverty and Injustice

These John Steinbeck quotes will enlighten you on people’s experiences in the time of the worst economic recession.

John Steinbeck was the giant of American letters.

He was a writer who focused on themes of fate and injustice. It is evident in his writing how wise he was in the realities of life. 

Spending his days with farmers and laborers taught him a lot. It also served as his material for his future works.

Delve more into John Steinbeck’s mind through reading the complete collection below.

Let’s get started.

And don’t forget to check out these Mark Twain quotes.

Best John Steinbeck Quotes

1. “All great and precious things are lonely.” 

2. “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.” 

3. “Maybe everybody in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” 

4. “Don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens. The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.” 

5. “If you want to destroy a nation, give it too much—make it greedy, miserable, and sick.” 

6. “Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

7. “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts. Perhaps, the fear of a loss of power.”

8. “A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.” 

9. “It is the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him.” 

10. “Perhaps, the less we have, the more we are required to brag.” 

11. “There ain’t no sin, and there ain’t no virtue—there’s just stuff people do.” 

12. “I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.” 

13. “It has always seemed strange to me, the things we admire in men—kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding, and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism, and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.”

14. “Nearly everyone has his box of secret pain.” 

15. “I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.” 

Inspirational John Steinbeck Quotes

16. “It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”

17. “I guess I’m trying to say, grab anything that goes by. It may not come around again.”

18. “Try to understand men. If you understand each other, you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”

19. “Only mediocrity escapes criticism.”

20. “Fear the time when the strikes stop while the great owners live, for every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken.”

21. “Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.”

22. “To be alive at all is to have scars.”

23. “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon, you have a dozen.”

24. “A man on a horse is spiritually, as well as physically, bigger than a man on foot.”

25. “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

26. “An answer is invariably the parent of a whole family of new questions.”

27. “And this I believe—that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for—the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against—any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.” 

28. “No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.”

29. “Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic? Well, think about it. Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.”

30. “People like you to be something, preferably what they are.”

John Steinbeck Quotes That Are Full of Meaning

31. “The little screaming fact that sounds through all history—repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”

32. “All men are moral. Only their neighbors are not.”

33. “A journey is a person in itself. No two are alike, and all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip. A trip takes us.”

34. “You’re bound to get idears if you go thinking about stuff.”

35. “You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.”

36. “The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.”

37. “If you’re in trouble, or hurt, or need—go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help, the only ones.”

38. “No one who is young is ever going to be old.”

39. “It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.” 

40. “It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils since we invented them.”

41. “Time is the only critic without ambition.” 

42. “Perhaps the best conversationalist in the world is the man who helps others to talk.”

43. “There’s a responsibility in being a person. It’s more than just taking up space where air would be.”

44. “I fear this disease incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.”

45. “As happens sometimes, a moment settled, and hovered, and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped, and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”

John Steinbeck Quotes on Life

46. “Any man of reasonable intelligence can make money if that’s what he wants. Mostly it’s women, or clothes, or admiration he really wants, and they deflect him.”

47. “There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.”

48. “Anything that just costs money is cheap.”

49. “We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it.”

50. “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.”

51. “Man is the only kind of varmint sets his own trap, baits it, then steps in it.”

52. “Sometimes, a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.”

53. “My imagination will get me a passport to hell one day.”

54. “It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.”

55. “These words dropped into my childish mind as if you should accidentally drop a ring into a deep well. I did not think of them much at the time, but there came a day in my life when the ring was fished up out of the well, good as new.”

56. “If we could learn to like ourselves, even a little, maybe our cruelties and angers might melt away.”

57. “Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms.”

58. “It has always been my private conviction that any man who puts his intelligence up against a fish and loses had it coming.”

59. “Don’t make everyone know about your sadness.”

60. “No one wants advice—only corroboration.”

John Steinbeck Quotes on Writing

61. ” To finish is sadness to a writer—a little death. He puts the last word down, and it is done. But it isn’t really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.”

62. “The craft of writing is the art of penetrating other minds with the figures that are in your own mind.”

63. “A good writer always works at the impossible. There is another kind who pulls in his horizons, drops his mind as one lowers rifle sights.”

64. “I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.”

65. “Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.”

66. “There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I.”

67. “Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.”

68. “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world, and he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”

69. “Give a critic an inch. He’ll write a play.”

70. “In utter loneliness, a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.”

71. “The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”

72. “Books are the best friends you can have. They inform you and entertain you, and they don’t talk back.”

73. “We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.”

74. “People who are most afraid of their dreams convince themselves they don’t dream at all.”

75. “A man without words is a man without thought.”

John Steinbeck Quotes on Love

76. “Certain events such as love, or a national calamity, or May, bring pressure to bear on the individual, and if the pressure is strong enough, something in the form of verse is bound to be squeezed out.”

77. “The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.”

78. “Well, I remember this girl. I am not whole without her. I am not alive without her. When she was with me, I was more alive than I have ever been, and not only when she was pleasant either. Even when we were fighting, I was whole.”

79. “I believe that love cannot be bought except with love.”

80. “Maybe, maybe love makes you suspicious and doubting. Is it true that when you love a woman, you are never sure? Never sure of her because you aren’t sure of yourself?”

81. “A man so painfully in love is capable of self-torture beyond belief.”

82. “There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance—this is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness, and consideration, and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick, and small, and weak, but the second can release in you strength, and courage, and goodness, and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.”

83. “A kind of light spread out from her, and everything changed color, and the world opened out, and a day was good to awaken to, and there were no limits to anything, and the people of the world were good and handsome, and I was not afraid anymore.”

84. “When two people meet, each one is changed by the other, so you’ve got two new people.”

85. “I’ve always tried out my material on my dogs first. Years ago, when my red setter chewed up the manuscript of ‘Of Mice and Men,’ I said at the time that the dog must have been an excellent literary critic.”

Deep John Steinbeck Quotes to Expand Your Mind

86. “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”

87. “Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields, and to prod all these, there’s time—the bastard time.”

88. “Can you honestly love a dishonest thing?”

89. “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?”

90. “But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed—because ‘thou mayest.'”

91. “You’ve seen the sun flatten and take strange shapes just before it sinks in the ocean. Do you have to tell yourself every time that it’s an illusion caused by atmospheric dust and light distorted by the sea, or do you simply enjoy the beauty of it?”

92. “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”

93. “It is true that we are weak, and sick, and ugly, and quarrelsome, but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth.”

94. “His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.”

95. “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

96. “Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.”

97. “I shall revenge myself in the cruelest way you can imagine. I shall forget it.”

98. “Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.”

99. “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

100. “You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyways.”

John Steinbeck Quotes About His Amusing Thoughts

101. “I’ve lived in good climate, and it bores the hell out of me. I like weather rather than climate.”

102. “Man, unlike anything organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.”

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

104. “The migrant people, scuttling for work, scrabbling to live, looked always for pleasure, dug for pleasure, manufactured pleasure, and they were hungry for amusement.”

105. “All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”

106. “I have owed you this letter for a very long time, but my fingers have avoided the pencil as though it were an old and poisoned tool.”

107. “The quality of owning freezes you forever in ‘I,’ and cuts you off forever from the ‘we.'”

108. “An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There’s a punishment for it, and it’s usually crucifixion.”

109. “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy, and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.”

110. “We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.”

111. “A guy needs somebody to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long as he’s with you. I tell you, I tell you a guy gets too lonely, and he gets sick.”

112. “I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession.”

113. “I am happy to report that in the war between reality and romance, reality is not the stronger.”

114. “I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically, dogs think humans are nuts.”

115. “For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more, and this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.”

John Steinbeck Quotes That Are Full of Wisdom

116. “If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen, and here I make a rule—a great and interesting story is about everyone, or it will not last.”

117. “So many old and lovely things are stored in the world’s attic because we don’t want them around us, and we don’t dare throw them out.”

118. “Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless—peacocks and lilies, for instance.”

119. “One can find so many pains when the rain is falling.”

120. “Somewhere in the world, there is a defeat for everyone. Some are destroyed by defeat, and some made small and mean by victory. Greatness lives in one who triumphs equally over defeat and victory.”

121. “Intention, good or bad, is not enough.”

122. “I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity, too—in a net of good and evil. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions—was it good or was it evil? Have I done well or ill?”

123. “Trouble with mice is you always kill them.”

124. “Death was a friend, and sleep was Death’s brother.”

125. “When a child first catches adults out—when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just. His world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen, and all safety gone, and there is one sure thing about the fall of gods—they do not fall a little. They crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again. They never quite shine, and the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”

126. “It’s all fine to say, ‘Time will heal everything, this too shall pass away. People will forget,’ and things like that when you are not involved, but when you are, there is no passage of time. People do not forget, and you are in the middle of something that does not change.”

127. “Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it just works the other way around. Take a real smart guy, and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.”

128. “He had an idea that even when beaten, he could steal a little victory by laughing at defeat.”

129. “It’s awful not to be loved. It’s the worst thing in the world. It makes you mean, and violent, and cruel.”

130. “Man has a choice, and it’s a choice that makes him a man.”

Beautiful John Steinbeck Quotes That Will Change Your Life

131. “If you are in love, that’s a good thing. That’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.”

132. “Being at ease with himself put him at ease with the world.”

133. “We can shoot rockets into space, but we can’t cure anger or discontent.”

134. “The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line.”

135. “I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything.”

136. “It is one of the triumphs of the human that he can know a thing and still not believe it.”

137. “I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.”

138. “We only have one story. All novels, all poetry are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil.”

139. “A woman holds dreadful power over a man who is in love with her, but she should realize that the quality and force of his love is the index of his potential contempt and hatred.”

140. “The new American finds his challenge and his love in the traffic-choked streets, skies nested in smog, choking with the acids of industry, the screech of rubber and houses leashed in against one another while the townlets wither a time and die.”

141. “We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God. Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life or death of the whole world—of all living things. The danger, and the glory, and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand. Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have.”

142. “He never fell, never slipped back, never flew.”

143. “So in our pride, we ordered for breakfast an omelet, toast, and coffee, and what has just arrived is a tomato salad with onions, a dish of pickles, a big slice of watermelon, and two bottles of cream soda.”

144. “She knew she could help him best by being silent and by being near.”

145. “Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.”

John Steinbeck Quotes About Great Depression

146. “I guess this is why I hate governments. It is always the rule, the fine print, carried out by the fine print men. There’s nothing to fight, no wall to hammer with frustrated fists.”

147. “I guess there are never enough books.”

148. “First, the strangers came with argument, and authority, and gunpowder to back up both. And in the 400 years, Kino’s people had learned only one defense—a slight slitting of the eyes, and a slight tightening of the lips, and a retirement. Nothing could break down this wall.”

149. “How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him. He has known a fear beyond every other.”

150. “They breathe profits. They eat the interest on money. If they don’t get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat.”

151. “They’s a time of change, and when that comes, dying is a piece of all dying, and bearing is a piece of all bearing, and bearing and dying is two pieces of the same thing. And then, things ain’t so lonely anymore. And then, a hurt don’t hurt so bad.” 

152. “When a majority of the people are hungry and cold, they will take by force what they need.” 

153. “It ain’t that big. The whole United States ain’t that big. It ain’t that big. It ain’t big enough. There ain’t room enough for you and me, for your kind and my kind. For hunger and fat.”

154. “The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.”

155. “I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments.”

John Steinbeck Quotes About Men and Suffering

156. “I knew I would wear scars, but would they be worse than the scars of failure I was wearing?”

157. “Let’s say that when I was a little baby, and all my bones soft and malleable, I was put in a small Episcopal cruciform box and so took my shape. Then, when I broke out of the box, the way a baby chick escapes an egg, is it strange that I had the shape of a cross? Have you ever noticed that chickens are roughly egg-shaped?”

158. “Up ahead, they’s a thousand lives we might live, but when it comes, it’ll only be one.”

159. “What a frightening thing is the human, a mass of gauges, and dials, and registers, and we can only read a few, and those perhaps not accurately.”

160. “When I was very young, and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age, I was assured greater age would calm my fever, and now that I am 58, perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ships’ whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms, and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, once a bum, always a bum.”

161. “They’re a dark people with a gift for suffering way past their deserving. It’s said that without whiskey to soak and soften the world, they’d kill themselves.”

162. “Muscles aching to work, minds aching to create—this is man.”

163. “I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—burning desire to go, to move, to get underway, anyplace, away from any here.”

164. “It never failed that during the dry years, the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years, they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”

165. “There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.”

166. “Farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance. Goodbye is short and final, a word with teeth sharp to bite through the string that ties past to the future.”

167. “I know people who are so immersed in road maps that they never see the countryside they pass through, and others who, having traced a route, are held to it as though held by flanged wheels to rails.”

168. “When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”

169. “Our people are good people. Our people are kind people. Pray God someday, kind people won’t all be poor.”

170. “I have never smuggled anything in my life. Why, then, do I feel an uneasy sense of guilt on approaching a customs barrier?”

Poetic John Steinbeck Quotes That You Would Love to Read Again

171. “Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness.”

172. “Charley is a mind-reading dog. There have been many trips in his lifetime. He knows we are going long before the suitcase has come out, and he paces, and worries, and whines, and goes into a state of mild hysteria.”

173. “Thoughts are slow, and deep, and golden in the morning.”

174. “In the eyes of the people, there is the failure. And in the eyes of the hungry, there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people, the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

175. “We know what we got, and we don’t care whether you know it or not.”

176. “I’m in love with Montana. For other states, I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana, it is love, and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”

177. “It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another, but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.”

178. “It is the hour of pearl—the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself.”

179. “No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us.”

180. “I’ll want to hear. I eat stories like grapes.”

181. “You must give him some sign, some sign that you love him, or he’ll never be a man.” 

182. “All his life, he’ll feel guilty and alone unless you release him.”

183. “For the most part, people are not curious except about themselves.”

184. “Doc still loved true things, but he knew it was not a general love, and it could be a very dangerous mistress.”

185. “It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.”

More Thought-Provoking John Steinbeck Quotes

186. “Syntax, my lad. It has been restored to the highest place in the republic.”

187. “But the Hebrew word, the word timshel, ‘Thou mayest,’ that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest,’ it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.'”

188. “The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for 4,000 years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.”

189. “Don’t you love Jesus? Well, I thought, and I thought, and finally, I says, ‘No, I don’t know nobody name, Jesus.’ I know a bunch of stories, but I only love people.”

190. “Sectional football games have the glory and the despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners.”

Did You Fall in Love With John Steinbeck’s Writing?

John Steinbeck’s writings can serve as teachers of life. His works are full of lessons about relationships, humanity, and oppression that shed light on topics not talked about.

Sometimes, we find ourselves learning more outside the usual classroom setting. John Steinbeck showed us how the real things in life could only be learned through experience.

Before, John Steinbeck’s works were people’s sunshine amidst the war. But, until now, his literature still serves as light for people fighting their battles. 

Which John Steinbeck quote did you like the most? What is your biggest takeaway from reading the collection? Let us hear your comments below!

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Karen Danao

Hi, I’m Karen, a content curator and writer for Quote Ambition; I’m also a marketing and advertising professional. Beyond the keyboard and the screen, I’m someone who’s out to enjoy every bit that life has to offer!

Poetry, philosophy, history, and movies are all topics I love writing about! However, my true passion is in traveling, photography, and finding common ground to which everyone from different cultures can relate.

With the many places I’ve been to, I found that love, inspiration, and happiness are some things that bring people together. No matter how different we are on the outside, I’m a true believer that our emotions don’t lie; if you dig deep into our psyche, we’re all the same inside.

This belief was further amplified when I joined Quote Ambition. Through the quotes I’ve read, collected, organized, and written about, I found that humans are resilient, creative, and compassionate.

We take from each others’ hearts and courage, and it’s through our individual experiences that we learn how to rise above our challenges and pain. In so many ways, Quote Ambition is a platform that allows people from all over the world to gain the inspiration they need anytime, anywhere!

You can find me on MuckRack and LinkedIn.