• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Amanda Final Presentation

Page history last edited by Amanda Brown 7 years, 11 months ago



Wealth and Its Moral Implications found in

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

Amanda Brown ENG 2043


Main Idea


     Wealth is an idea which can be looked at either figuratively as the relationships one has attained or literally as the amount of money and possessions one has acquired. The novel The Winter of Our Discontent displays the idea of wealth through a literal point of view. The desire for wealth in this novel is a main motivator which leads to complications in the moral standards of the characters.




     John Steinbeck opens the novel on the morning of Good Friday in the early 1960s. Ethan Hawley is the husband of Mary and the father of two children, Allen and Ellen. Ethan’s deep ancestral history is described as he walks to his job in Marullo’s grocery store. During the first chapter of the book multiple characters approach Ethan with the idea of investments and how to make more money. When Ethan returns home he finds that his children want to enter a writing contest. After a talk with Mr. Baker on Easter Sunday, Ethan goes to see his old friend Danny, the town drunk. Ethan gives Danny money for him to make himself better, and to protect the land which Mr. Baker desires. The next day, an envelope appears under the store’s door which contains Danny’s will. Part two begins around July fourth of the same year. Morphy believes that Marullo is an illegal immigrant, and Ethan reports Marullo. Ethan deceives Mr. Baker to give him conveyance papers for the store and to pull money out of Mary’s account. Ethan decides that he is going to rob the bank, but didn’t get the chance. Marullo gets deported, but Ethan gains control of the store. While Ethan and Mary are on vacation Margie calls to tell them that Allen won honorable mention in the writing contest. Just when everything is going well in Ethan’s world he learns that Danny was found dead. Ethan sells the land he receive in the will to Mr. Baker. At Allen’s party, Ethan is told that Allen’s essay was copied and they are accused with fraud. Ethan then grabs some razors and goes to his place by the harbor. He slit his wrist and lets himself start to die in the water, but then he remembers the talisman and wants to give it to Ellen, “Else another light might go out.” 





     The iconic World War II picture of the soldiers all working together to put up a flag represents a time period approximately fifteen years before the setting of this book. During this time, citizens were drafted to fight in a war over seas. This meant that they were going to be paid to shoot at and take shots from enemy forces. In any other situation the act of killing others for payment would be considered illegal, but during war it is acceptable. War is an example of a time when lines of morality become blurred. The character Ethan to be fully analyzed for the person he is. Ethan was a soldier in World War II. It is necessary to understand that Ethan had a past as a soldier. When looking at Ethan trying to kill himself at the end of the novel, it is implied that the amount of morally ambiguous choices within the span of a few months was more mentally traumatic than his time in war.


Heinz Dilemma and Morality


     A famous psychologist named Lawrence Kohlberg created a dilemma in order to test moral development. This problem was named the Heinz Dilemma. In this situation, a man has a sick wife who needs a new medicine, but the man does not have the money for the medicine because the pharmacist was charging ten times the amount it cost to make the medicine. The man tries to reason with the pharmacist, but to no avail because the pharmacist discovered the cure and he wanted to make money. The man goes in later that night to steal the drug in order to save his dear wife. This dilemma is studied in psychology classes everywhere, not only because of the complex problem, but because of the idea that the answer is not the important part, but that the reasoning of one’s actions determined their moral standings (McLeod).


     The idea of Heinz Dilemma is interesting when it is applied to the Steinbeck’s novel. If we looked at Ethan, he would probably choose to steal the medicine because he states that he loves his wife despite them being opposites. It can be concluded that he would steal a simple medicine in order to save someone he loved because he was willing to compromise his beliefs in order to provide enough money for the family to move up in class. This conclusion would place him in the post-conventional morality classification which is only about ten to fifteen of the population. In this level the individual displays an understanding that there are rules and laws in society as well as rules that the individual establishes for himself/herself (McLeod). This becomes more evident as the story develops. In the beginning Ethan is a man who has done the same thing every day because that is what he is set to do; society has a place for him as a grocery clerk. His transformation begins when many people bring up the idea of money and how to expand wealth. Wealth is the driving force of Ethan’s moral development. It allows his thinking to change and become curious about breaking away from the system set in place at the time.


Inherited vs Earned Money


     The article Morality of Money brings insight into the idea of inherited money versus earned money. The article states that people who earn their money through hard work, such as Steve Jobs, are more likely to be praised for their wealth than those who inherit their money through family (Kornhauser, 129).


     Ethan’s ancestors consisted of whaling captains and pilgrims; the Hawley name was known by everyone in the town. When everyone in town knows of a family’s success, they also know about the downfalls. Ethan once owned the store which Marullo employed him at. Ethan had an unsuccessful run of earning his money because he tried to start a business during a depression. Later in the story Ethan participates in shady dealing in order to regain his store from Marullo. When Ethan undermines Marullo’s trust in him and informs the immigration officials of Marullo’s illegal immigrant status, Ethan is earning his wealth immorally. He is, however, still doing work in order to make money. The store would not become a profitable move for Ethan unless he still put in the effort to make the store succeed. If people were to know about the shady way which acquired the store and his wealth he would probably be subject to isolation from the citizen of the town.


Allen vs Ethan


     Steinbeck creates a thought provoking dialogue between Allen and Ethan. In this conversation they begin talking about the essay which the two children entered. They begin talking about the idea of piracy, and Ethan tries to explain the concept as “wealth without effort”. This idea is interesting because there is still effort somewhere; someone has to do the work for the ideas or money to exist. There is some effort into everything; therefore, the idea of “wealth without effort” is a flawed ideology. Later in the conversation Allen mentions “It’s all dough, no matter how you get it”, to which Ethan replies, “I don’t believe that. It doesn’t hurt the money to get it that way but it hurts the one who gets it” (Steinbeck, 72). This represents the differing ideas from son to father. Allen sees no problem in doing whatever actions you want to in order to achieve a goal. Ethan shows his morally appropriate ideology through his words. He is saying that once a man has earned wealth through an unfair method, then that person will create a habit of taking the easy path. This creates some sort of Pavlovian Response where a person takes the easy way and is rewarded with what they desired in the first place. Ethan’s statement also shows his moral change over time because in the beginning he is an advocate for hard work, but later decides that he wants to rob a bank. Robbing a bank is an easy way around not working for money. By robbing a bank, there is only one short period of work that has to get done in order to get a large reward instead of working for many years and retiring with enough money to live. It sounds nice when the two options are put together like this, but a morality minded individual would not have the confidence in themselves to become a bank robber. A person who is morally misguided, however, may deem it a reasonable way to acquire the wealth they desire.


Class Structure on Morality


     It is possible that the idea of having wealth allows for a person to see themselves as better than others. Grewal states the use of a set of studies to showcase how wealth and class affect their reactions. This study allowed different social classes to be tested to see if there were differences in the compassion of the participants. The first study allowed the participants to compare themselves with people who were better or worse off than they were in regard to wealth. After they did this, they were given a jar of candy. They could take out as much as they wanted, but the rest went to some children in another room. The second study monitored the heart rate of the participants as they watched videos about children infected with cancer. Both studies found that the people of upper class were worse at noticing the emotions and were more like to utilize objects as distractions during interactions (Grewal).


     This does not necessarily mean that those of higher wealth are bad people. It means the higher the class, the more likely to rule over others. In the novel this is shown through Mr. Baker. Mr. Baker is the head of the bank in town. He is a rich man and is adamant about getting his way no matter the cost. In the beginning of the novel he tries to bully Ethan into investing the money which Mary got after her brother’s death. Mr. Baker later tries to force Danny to sell his land, his only possession, to him in order to build and advance the town. These are examples of Mr. Baker using his own wealth and promise of wealth to be morally questionable and to manipulate the people who are lower on the social structure than he.

Money is a key factor in the determination of one’s actions. Kumar states, “As long as we are wedded to this financial paradigm and its money model, the strong will exploit the weak, and our social and environmental fabric (and morals) will continue to fall apart” (Kumar). This statement portrays that this particular author desires to break away from the current system of wealth. Ethan falls prey to this system of financial need and exploitation. He is first dominated by others who have wealth and then Ethan actually dominates himself. His wealth and journey to obtain wealth overcomes his being and he desires to punish himself by killing himself.


     Ethan decides in the end of the book that he has lost his way and he must pay by slitting his wrist and drowning himself into the water. The San Francisco Federal Reserve reports that people who earn less money than their neighbors are more likely to commit suicide (Fairchild). This is similar to Ethan’s case. His wife, Mary had developed an idea of how she wanted to live by watching her neighbors and her friends; she saw how much Margie put into her appearance. His kids wanted to have fun items such as a motorbikes and televisions. Allen and Ellen are constantly asking Ethan why they aren’t wealthier or when are they going to have more money. The expectations of his family caused Ethan to desire wealth in order to be happy. He was pressured to change his life and his journey for wealth caused him to change morally. He did not like who he became.


The Exception of Ellen


     The last words in the novel are, “Else another light might go out” (Steinbeck, 279). These words show that Ethan has lost hope for himself, but he has hope for his daughter the one character who was a moral compass of sorts. For example, she was the one who felt it necessary to report her brother for fraud after the family received the results from the writing contest they answered. She did this even though it meant the monetary reward would be lost. Ellen was able to not let money affect her morality.


     Morality is a concept in which a person develops their rules and parameters for that specific person to live by for their life. Wealth plays an enormous role in the development of morality. This is shown in the novel through the actions of all of the characters. Ethan states in the book, “Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms” (Steinebeck, 101). This statement allows to view money and wealth as a negative quality that will amplify the deep underlying personality and moral potential of people.




Fairchild, Caroline. "Suicide Rates Higher For Americans Living Among Wealthy Neighbors: Study." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. /

Grewal, Daisy. "How Wealth Reduces Compassion." Scientific American. Web.

Steinbeck, John. The Winter of Our Discontent. New York: Viking, 1961. Print.

Kornhauser, Marjorie E. (1994) "The Morality Of Money: American Attitudes Toward Wealth and the Income Tax," Indiana Law Journal: Vol. 70: Iss. 1, Article 5.

Kumar, Satish. "Money and Morality." Resurgence • Article. www.resurgence.org/magazine/article3539-money-and-morality.html.

          McLeod, S. A. (2013). Kohlberg. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/kohlberg.html.


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.