Letter from John Steinbeck to Thom Steinbeck

[New York]
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First--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.

Second--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.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply--of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it--and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

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

If you love someone--there is no possible harm in saying so--only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

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

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.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens--The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.




John Steinbeck was the most popular novelist in the world when he died in 1968. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath, and in 1962 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his life’s body of writing. Thom is the oldest of his two sons. He is fourteen and is living at a boarding school in Connecticut. The boys’ mother was Gwyn Conger, Steinbeck’s first wife. Elaine is his third wife.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/23 at 09:20 AM
  1. Thom has apparently asked his father for advice about love. Though Thom is only 14, his father doesn’t make light of his feelings of love, nor does he try to discourage him.

    He warns him that there is a bad kind of love that is selfish and that people use use in a mean and egotistical way. But there is also a love that links us to what’s best in us--courage and strength and wisdom. This love focuses on what is best and most beautiful in life, and Steinbeck’s advice to his son is that he should “try to live up to it.”

    How can an inexperienced person tell these two loves apart?

    Posted by Michael L Umphrey  on  03/24  at  12:42 AM
  2. What a beautiful and touching letter especially the last sentence, which has been a sort of mantra for me lately :)

    Posted by  on  11/27  at  10:18 PM






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