Two writers who come quickly to my mind whenever I hear or see images of American patriotism are John Steinbeck and Hunter S. Thompson. As different as these two men are, their writing is similar in that the American Dream constantly fails their characters. Both seek to define America and the American Dream, however, it remains seemingly elusive, and both writers fail to find it.
I choose Steinbeck and Thompson because, to me, their writing styles are the same. They have the same lust for language and powerful writing. Their subjects are contemporary; they are not necessarily moral or upright, but are average people. Both view the world in the same sad way, that people are as easily led to beauty as deceit, joy to sorrow and life to death. There are certain truths in their writing that is not expressed elsewhere; consequences that we might not always like to believe exist. I also choose Steinbeck and Thompson in that they are representative of the twentieth century. Steinbeck neatly covers the first half more or less, and Thompson from the sixties to present.
Both authors have also experienced a number of failures. Steinbeck has been called sentimental, overdrawn, boring and grossly contrived. While this may be true, for example, the killing of Candy's dog as a metaphor for the killing of Lenny in Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck received attention after Tortilla Flats was published. Since then, he has become one of the most popular authors of the twentieth century and won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. Thompson, who has been called names less polite, continues to be a dynamic force in modern American writing, because he broke conventional rules of writing and journalism. Thompson, who flunked out of Columbia, also worked hard before gaining fame for Hell's Angels. His popularity continues today with his cult following of fans. Rather interesting is that both men are alcoholics.
One of Steinbeck's last books is Travels With Charley in which the old man and his poodle take a road trip in a custom built truck named Rosinante. This book is my least favorite; here, sentimental, overdrawn, boring and grossly contrived apply greatly. Steinbeck records faithfully how he procured his truck, meets with his sons one last time before setting off, then hurtles across the country, interviewing cowboys and common people. He makes brief comments on current events such as Nikita Kruschev; but other than that, fails to find America. In fact, I would say that the book subtitled "In Search of America", is a lame attempt at personal journalism. Personal journalism is only worth reading if something exciting or out of the ordinary happens, and takes a certain touch. (As human beings, we tend to go for the exciting. In Travels, Steinbeck may as well have printed how many times he changed his underwear). Travels is a failure all in itself, as Steinbeck throws his characteristic prose out the window.
Thompson also goes on the road. Fear and Loathing in...