John Steinbeck‘s Economics of Behavior: A Social Exchange Reading of the Worker Trilogy and the Monterey Trilogy

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)



Date of Award

Summer 2016


In his speech on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, John Steinbeck decrees that a writer should be part of the endless war against weakness and despair. This statement reflects his own writing on economics, the subaltern groups that inhabit many of his works, and the interplay between and among the individuals in those groups. In this dissertation, I argue that Steinbeck experiments with various aspects of small group interchange within two sets of novels: the worker trilogy, which includes In Dubious Battle, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath, and the Monterey trilogy, which consists of Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, and Sweet Thursday. This dissertation fills a scholarly gap by analyzing how Steinbeck expresses what I term an economics of behavior, a system wherein the close communities of his novels privilege the relationships and needs of individuals within the groups over the monetary or material gain prevalent in the greater society. Read through the analytical lens of George Homans‘s social exchange theory, these novels reveal a consistent experimentation that tests differing aspects of economics and group behavior that begins in Tortilla Flat, published in 1935, and culminates in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. Not only does this dissertation bring together the extensive scholarship on themes that tend to be deliberated separately but it also considers the small group relationships and economics in the same manner Steinbeck wrote them, as a single entity.


Karen Roggenkamp

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature