Ethan Hawley is discontented. He's a store clerk in a long line of wealthy men; a store clerk in a store his family used to own. He lives in the family home, the Hawley House, with his wife and two children. It's a large house in a prestigious part of a small town, but Ethan has no money. The last of the riches went out in his father's day.
Day after day, Ethan tends the store that is now owned by a kind and elderly Italian immigrant named Marullo. Life has become monotonous: sweep the walk, stock the cans, bag the purchases. This is not the life he wants for his family. So, Ethan hatches a plan to get back on top: Rob the bank next door. In and out in two minutes and an over-flowing toilet as an alibi, that was the plan, but the untimely appearance of a government man proves to be a show stopper. At a second glance, though, the questions the g-man asks about Marullo bring rise to an entirely better plan.
Meanwhile, a family friend feels obligated to offer Ethan a chance to become a small part of a big commercial real estate deal. Ethan has bigger plans though. He intends to own 51% in the deal. His childhood friend and now drunk bum, Danny, owns the land and Marullo owns the store, but Ethan has a plan to take both and come out looking like the good guy in the end.
Ethan sits quietly in his secret spot, pondering the ethics of manipulating a friend in mortal need, frivolous flirtation with the sexy Margie Young-Hunt and extortion, while remembering the stories his grandfather told him.
Sometimes a character comes along that rings out in your head. He's so identifiable that you almost assume the character was modeled after your own soul. Never mind the fact that the character was created 10 years before you were born, he's you... or maybe you're him.
These characters are so real that you forget that the author is the one narrating the story. The author is transparent. The narrator is your own heart, a characterization of yourself. His narration is raw and truthful. The prose may be nearly 50 years old, but it paints a portrait of American life that transcends all the days from this to that.
That's Steinbeck's prose; Steinbeck's prose, but Ethan Hawley's words. Ethan is the lead character in Steinbeck's, "The Winter of Our Discontent." Ethan is Steinbeck's creation; Ethan is my character. I listen to his thoughts, to the ideas in his head and I recognize them as the thoughts I so often find myself working through. His struggles, his emotions and, indeed, his proposed solutions are a facsimile of the very ones I carry with me. Every man must consider his fate. In your heart, you find your answers, however right or wrong. Ethan found my answers... not that I'm going to start robbing banks or anything. But, sitting in the Place, out of the wind, seeing under the guardian lights, I find the answers that Ethan found so long before I knew I was looking. "No nonsense of Madison Avenue then or trimming too many leaves from cauliflowers."
This report prepared by Tony Hamby
Ethan Hawley is the scion of a once-wealthy family in an old New York whaling town; but the money disappeared when oil replaced whaling. Ethan is educated and well-spoken but he is reduced to working as a clerk in the local store: the very store he and his family once owned. He has an attentive and doting wife and two children but he is not satisfied with his life.
He is honest, mostly, until he one day dreams up a scheme to win back the family fortune. At first he considers robbing the local bank- on a slow day he can be out the back door of the store and at the bank and back again before anyone notices. But at the last minute he gets a bigger idea. The store owner is a nice old Italian fellow (he calls Ethan "kid") and Ethan hatches a plot to have him deported. He convinces the old man to sell the store to him at a bargain rate just before he heads back to Italy. Ethan then learns that a large corporation wants to buy some property in town and he convinces the current landowner (his alcoholic friend, Danny) to sell that land to him so that Ethan becomes rich. Meanwhile, Danny drinks himself to death on the wine Ethan gives him. Ethan's family life is looking up as their fortunes change; his son even wins an award for writing an essay and the family prepares for the award ceremony as the police come calling.
This report prepared by P Cohen