Is it The Grapes of Wrath, by Steinbeck?

Hold on .... Before you start naming your favorite American novels, let's just discuss the concept.

What about The Great Gatsby, by Fitzgerald?

Shut up, OK! The idea of the Great American Novel is the idea that there is one story, by an American1 that somehow sums up, encapsulates and presents to the reader the soul and spirit - the true essence - of America2.

What about something by Mark Twain? Like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Look: the books you name certainly are great. And they are American - written by Americans and about life in America, the "American condition", etc.

The point is, there is not and never will be THE Great American Novel. There are too many people, times, experiences, places and events which make up "America" for there to be the one that says it all.

Still, you hear the phrase a lot. There have been countless discussions, conversations, arguments, nominations and refutations. And in a sense these are all good because they highlight the fact that there is a wealth of great novels about this land. You don't need one when you can have them all.

Yeah, like what about The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger?

*SIGH* ... Right.

Okay, then let's talk about The Great American Song! How about Pink Houses by John Cougar Mellencamp, or America by Simon and Garfunkel, or ....

1. Though it should be noted that when this phrase is used, the author is almost certainly assumed to be from North America and, more specifically, from the United States.
2. Again, a possibly limited sense of the term "America".

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