Printing History
First published in the United States of America by Robert O. Ballou Inc. 1933
Published by Covici, Friede, Inc. 1935
Published by The Viking Press Inc. 1938
Published in Penguin Books 1976
Published with an introduction and notes by Robert DeMoot in Penguin Books 1995
Copyright John Steinbeck, 1933
Copyright renewed John Steinbeck, 1961

Main Characters
1Joseph Wayne central character
John Joseph's father
Benjy Joseph's younger brother, lady's man
Thomas Joseph's eldest brother, aged 42, animal lover
Burton Joseph's elder brother, very religious
2Old Juan native of Nuestra Señora
3Romas lumber wagon driver
Juanito Indian who claims to be Castillian
Willie Romas' son, a wagon driver
5Rama Thomas's wife
Harriet Burton's wife
Jennie Benjy's wife
6Alice Garcia Juanito's girlfriend
Jesus Garcia Alice's father
7McGreggor Marxist philosopher in Monterey
Elizabeth McGreggor's daughter; a teacher; Joseph's wife
16Martha Rama's oldest girl
Manuel Old Juan's son-in-law
Father Angelo Priest from Nuestra Señora
25Joseph [Chango] baby of Alice and Juanito

Opening Quotation
He is the giver of breath, and strength is his gift.
The high Gods revere his commandments.
His shadow is life, his shadow is death;
Who is He to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?

Through His might He became lord of the living and glittering world
And he rules the world and the men and the beasts
Who is He to whom weshall offer our sacrifice?

From His strength the mountains take being, and the sea, they say,
And the distant river;
And these are his body and his two arms.
Who is He to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?

He made the sky and the earth, and His will fixed their places,
Yet they look to Him and tremble.
The risen sun shines forth over Him.
Who is He to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?

He looked over the waters which stored His power and gendered the sacrifice.
He is God over Gods.
Who is He to whom we shall offer our sacrifice?

May He not hurt us, He who made earth,
Who made the sky and the shining sea?
Who is the God to whom we shall offer sacrifice?

Joseph Wayne's homestead is located at Jolon (see map). The vacant church is Mission San Antonio de Padua, founded by Junipero Serra, 1771, in a Salinan Indian site. The novel's San Francisquito River is the San Antonio River.

Additional notes: John Steinbeck, Novels and Stories, 1932-1937, ed. Robert DeMott and Elaine Steinbeck (New York: Library of America, 1994), p. 906.

- notes to the 1995 Penguin edition
Amazon Books: To a God Unknown

Book Blurb — Penguin 1995
Steinbeck's ambitious second novel explores man's relationship to nature and to destiny

Ancient pagan beliefs, the great Greek epics, and the Bible all inform this extraordinary novel, which occupied Steinbeck for more than five difficult years. While fulfilling his dead father's dream of creating a prosperous farm in California, Joseph Wayne comes to believe that a magnificent tree on the farm embodies his father's spirit. His brothers and their families share in Joseph's prosperity, and the farm flourishes—until one brother, frightened by Joseph's pagan belief, kills the tree, allowing disease and famine to descend on the farm. Set in familiar Steinbeck country, To a God Unknown is a mystical tale, exploring one man's attempt to control the forces of nature and, ultimately, to understand the ways of God and the forces of the unconscious within.

Chapter Summary
1Joseph receives his father's blessing to leave the Pittford VT farm to homestead in California; he arrives in Spring, 1904.
2Joseph records his homestead in Nuestra Señora, a valley between the Salinas and the Pacific. Rides back to his land through heavy rain.
3Lumber arrives after two weeks. Joseph hears tales of an earlier dry season in the 1880s. Willie has a bad dream
4The house frame is up. Juanito comes. Burton writes that Joseph's father has died, and Joseph believes his spirit has entered the majestic oak on his land.
5Joseph's brothers join him in an expanded (and joined) homestead of 640 acres, built around his house.
6The farm animals reproduce (to Burton's religious shame). Juanito is betrothed to Alice. Tom hears about the earlier dry years. Tom, Joseph and Juanito see a black bull at a moss-covered rock amidst a circular pine glade.
7Elizabeth is introduced. She becomes a teacher in Nuestra Señora and is awkwardly courted by Joseph.
8Joseph and Elizabeth go for a buggy ride on their first real date. She hears a drunken Benjy singing in the night.
9Joseph continues to court Elizabeth. She climbs a tree at one point and sees the pine glade from there.
10Joseph and Elizabeth are married at a Protestant church in Monterey. After a train ride to King City, they ride a carriage to the pass which enters the valley of Nuestra Señora. Elizabeth is reluctant to go through the pass.
11As they arrive at home they find Benjy stabbed by the cuckolded Juanito who rides to the pine glade.
12Rama and Elizabeth get to know each other
13Joseph rides to the glade to meet Juanito. When Joseph refuses to stab him, Juanito vows to return after Benjy's bones are clean.
14Winter comes early. After Benjy's funeral, Jennie leaves for the East. Alice, pregnant, comes to stay with Elizabeth who is now very happy.
15It rains for a week; by Thanksgiving the grass is ankle-high and there are good garden crops. Old Juan shows up and proposes as New Year's fiesta.
16Martha prophesies rain for the festival. Many preparations. Burton regards the Mass and group dancing as devil-worship. He observes Joseph addressing the tree. Elizabeth is tired (pregnant?).
17Bounteous Spring. Preparations for Elizabeth's delivery. While Joseph is in San Luis Obispo, Elizabeth visits the pine grove.
18Very hot Summer. Burton goes to a camp-meeting in Pacific Grove. Elizabeth learns of Joseph's relation to the oak tree. After a hard labor she delivers a boy.
19Joseph wants to place the baby, John, in the arms of oak tree. Burton regards this as pagan and evil.
20Burton and his family move to Pacific Grove. Joseph senses something's wrong with the oak tree. When he returns with fruit trees from town Thomas shows him that Burton has girdled the tree below ground level.
21No rain through November and December. Joseph and Elizabeth ride to the ridge to view the ocean. In the pine grove the stream is still flowing. Elizabeth slips on the moss-covered rock and breaks her neck. While Thomas makes the coffin in the barn, Rama goes to bed with Joseph.
22Almost no rain. Romas, whose son Willie has hung himself, says Joseph must drive the cows 100 miles east to the San Joaquin or lose them. Thomas and Joseph ride to the coast. They meet an old man who sacrifices small creatures every night at sundown.
23Joseph decides to stay at the ranch. At sundown he gives his baby to Rama. After everyone leaves he walks to pine grove and waters the moss from the stream. Next day he moves to the grove.
24300 cattle die on the road. The stream recedes. Juanito arrives and they go to see Father Angelo who addresses Joseph as another priest. Joseph refuses the church.
25Joseph has dinner with Juanito and Alice, blesses their baby Joseph. Back at the rock, he cuts the throat of an abandoned calf to water the moss. After his horse runs off he cuts his own wrists over the moss. The rain begins.
26Father Angelo savors the rain he prayed for, sees the Mexicans carrying pagan totems, and hears the people dancing and rutting in the mud.

Stephan Steinbeck