If you have not read this book, what are you waiting for? Is it because it was written before you were born? (1939) Does its name scare you, as it did me, into imagining it would be about all sorts of odd things, as I did? Well don't let your preconceived notions fool you. It's a terrific
novel. It is a great piece of literature that won Mr. Steinbeck a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize, and eventually, with his other contributions to literature, earned him a Nobel Prize.
What can I say about the Joads that has not already been said in the past sixty-odd years? How could I have missed knowing them earlier? I read this story, with its "country speech" and "country ways" and wanted to take them all in. I wanted to comfort them all. I didn't know what I would find at the Joads when we first meet Tom going home. Who is this Tom Joad Jr. and why was he in jail? He must have had a HORRIBLE life to end up there, he must have. Then you meet the 'fambly.' You live with the 'fambly.' You see proud Pa try so hard to be the head of the home during the Dust Bowl migration. This family, who for generations upon generations, upon generations lived off their land. The land wasn't a piece of property, it was family. It fed them, it housed them. They raised a crop to sell, so they can pay off the loans they took when times were tough before. When the rains stopped coming, and the payments to the bank stopped being made, the 'banks' came and told all these people to leave. Imagine someone coming to tell you that the land you have lived on all your life, the land of your fathers and grandfathers belonged to the banks and you had to leave right now. Imagine the dread. All your life spent in the same place, with the same neighbors, the same strong values; "Yes Sir! Yes Ma'am!" No talking back, everyone knew their place. And then the dust came, and took away everything you knew.
The Joads sell everything they own, load up a beat-up truck with the necessities (food, water, mattresses, clothes, pots, pans) and head towards the promised land of California. Along with 500,000 other displaced people. All looking for land to work; it's all they know. You get land, you work it, it's yours. They had no idea what life outside of Oklahoma was really going to be like.
There's Ma, trying so hard to keep the family strong. She's the backbone. She eventually takes charge, which, back on their farm, was unheard of. Times were changing.
Ma & Pa, 6 kids, Grandma & Grandpa, Uncle John, the Preacher Casey, and Connie, the husband of one of Ma's daughters. Thirteen people in one truck.
I wanted to bring them home, let them eat, give them a hot bath, tell them it'll be ok. I wanted to simultaneously smack the heck out of Rose of Sharon (Rosasharn) and comfort her in the end; tell her she really did do good in God's eyes at that very last paragraph. I saw Ruthie grow in those 7 or 8 months into someone I did not like. She was mean, she was vindictive, she was 7. I saw humanity at its worse. Things like this really did happen in the early 1930's, after the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. These "Okies" were treated with contempt. They were kicked off their lands, treated like animals, paid meager wages or in some cases, they were paid with a loaf of bread for 16 hours of work, and it's disgusting. How would you fare? What would you be willing to do to feed your starving family?
It's a terrific book. I wish I knew how Noah fared. I wish I knew what happened to that spineless Connie. Is Tom ok? Did he take up the cause that Casey so tragically and instantaneously had taken from him? I imagine so. I imagine Tom forcing these cities who spurned them, who burned them out, who arrested them, to have to accept them; 500,000 strong. If not directly, then inspiring others to go on and on. The packing plants who throw away food, while these people sit outside the gates dying. The orange growers who sprayed kerosene on the overstock of oranges rather than give them away for free. The food thrown in rivers, with armed guards making sure no one took the food. Pigs slaughtered because they could not sell them, and hungry people staring, not understanding that there's a profit to be made.
"And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listening to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is a failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage."
Just when you think it can't get any worse for the poor, hard-working Joad family...IT DOES! This is a story of a strong family who, when faced with harsh adversity, stands together and helps each other make it just one more step further. Taking it step by step, the Joad family struggles to eat and survive during the Depression. It really made me appreciate everything I have, especially the love of my family. The ending wasn't much of an "end" to things so I still wonder what happened to the beautiful Joad family.
I never had to read this in high school, like so many others did. I just finished it and was astounded at the story, writing and general theme of the book. I could see some of my grandparents in it, even though they were still teenagers in 1929. I could also see parallels to today's economic times, although we have come a long way in 81 years.
If you haven't read it, do!
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is one of the most powerful books i've read. It affected me on many levels, some of which i'll mention in this review. Despite having heard about this story since high school, loving the song "The Ghost of Tom Joad" by Bruce Springsteen, and having seen the Henry Fonda movie several times, this is my first reading of this novel. It has certainly earned its place in the top novels of American Literature, and, for reasons both good and bad, is a timeless story that should be read by every generation as time goes on.
The Grapes of Wrath is the elegantly told story of the Joad family, poor sharecroppers, forced from their farm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era, and their subsequent migration to the "promised land" of California. Much of their journey and experiences are told in their own words, in the vernacular of the "Okies", as they were derogatorily referred to. Interspersed through the story is Steinbeck's commentary on the reasons for the sharecroppers dire situation and some of the systemic disfunction that left hard working people fighting for their very survival in a nation of wealth, abundance, and power. This is a story of desperation and hope, failure and hopelessness in the face of a financial, political, and social system in the U.S., that dehumanizes and destroys the bodies and spirits of good hard working people.
One of the levels on which this story moved me was related to my own family's history. My father and his siblings grew up during this same time period, across the state line, in the Ozarks of Missouri. Unlike the fertile river bottom farm land of the Missouri River and Mississippi River valleys in northern and eastern Missouri, the Ozark mountains are a rocky, unfriendly place to scratch out a living by farming. This was especially true in during the Great Depression. I think that one of the few ironic advantages the poor farmers of the Ozarks had over the sharecroppers of Oklahoma during the Depression was that the Ozark land was so poor that no large farming companies or banks wanted it, and therefore the farmers were not forced off. This at least saved the dirt poor farmers like my grandpa from having their land taken from them and turned into large commercial farms. In spite of being able to keep their land, my father and most of my uncles and aunts moved from the Ozarks to California during this period of history (during the 1930's). Altho the specific reasons were different, i believe the reasons were similar (economic collapse of small farming economy) and i felt like i was reading some of my own family history in this novel.
Unfortunately, the timelessness of this story is in part due to the fact that the same humiliation and dehumanization of marginalized groups in the U.S. is still going on today, and is caused by the same systemic disfunction that existed in the Depression years. Corporate and personal greed and the valuation of profits over people in the U.S. society is stronger than ever today. The timeless story of The Grapes of Wrath needs to be told today more than ever. As i think back in the history of my own family, my parents and my siblings, and the struggles they faced during the 1960's and 70's to put food on our table and clothes in our closets, i see that the hardship and struggle was in a large part due to the same systemic disfunction that existed in the Depression years. Our national priorities are political and economic power rather than the health and welfare of our citizens and immigrants. Our society is only as strong as our weakest member, not the strongest. We would be wise to learn from our mistakes, and help create a society that values all people, not just those living in privilege.
Six stars for this one!
Grapes of Wrath is remarkable simply as a piece of writing, but even more so as a piece of American history and journalism. This was basically written during the depression and served as a pulsating, vibrant document of the suffering of the Okies. This is a passionate piece of art by an artist that actually had something to say.