Friday, May 1, 2009

5. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck.

5. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck. I was in high school when I started reading Steinbeck. I loved this book.
History: This novel was published in 1939. At the time of publication, it was publicly banned and burned by citizens. Part of its impact stemmed from its passionate depiction of the plight of the poor, and in fact, many of Steinbeck's contemporaries attacked his social and political views. The Associated Farmers of California were displeased with the book's depiction of California farmers' attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a 'pack of lies' and labeled it 'communist propaganda'. However, although Steinbeck was accused of exaggeration of the camp conditions to make a political point, in fact he had done the opposite, underplaying the conditions that he well knew were worse than the novel describes
Plot: Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on a poor family of sharecroppers, the Joads, driven from their home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in the agriculture industry. In a nearly hopeless situation, they set out for California's Central Valley along with thousands of other "Okies" in search of land, jobs, and dignity. While en route, the Joad family discovers that all of the roads and the highways are saturated with other families who are also making the same trek, ensnared by the same promise. As the Joads continue on their journey and hear many stories from others, some coming back from California, they are forced to confront the possibility that their prospects may not be what they hoped. Upon arrival, they find little hope of finding a decent wage, as there is an oversupply of labor and a lack of rights, and the big corporate farmers are in collusion. The tragedy lies in the simplicity and impossibility of their dream: a house, a family, and a steady job. In response to the exploitation of laborers, the workers begin to join unions. The surviving members of the family unknowingly work as strikebreakers on an orchard involved in a strike that eventually turns violent, killing the preacher Casy and forcing Tom Joad to kill again and become a fugitive. He bids farewell to his mother, promising that no matter where he runs, he will be a tireless advocate for the oppressed. Rose of Sharon's baby is stillborn; however, Ma Joad remains steadfast and forces the family through the bereavement. In the end, Rose of Sharon commits the only act in the book that is not futile: she breast feeds a man too sick from starvation to eat solid food, still trying to show hope in humanity after her own negative experience. This final act is said to illustrate the spontaneous mutual sharing that will lead to a new awareness of collective values.
Review: This is a novel chronicling the desperate plight of the landless poor during the years of the Great Depression. From the word go, the language of the novel is poignantly melancholic, tinged with feeling as if the very words bore the weight of their suffering. The book is haunting from start to finish. It is a story that depresses me, and it makes me angry to know that so many people starved because people were afraid, disgusted, and in denial. And unfortunately, more than 60 years later, many things have not changed.
Opening Line: “To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.”
Closing Line: “She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and she smiled mysteriously.”
Quotes: “The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it.”
“How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him--he has known a fear beyond every other.”
“In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
rubbish poor mediocre okay good very good superb

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