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."