The Grapes of Wrath is one of the great masterpieces of American Literature. You feel the bitterness and loss as the Joad family looks upon Uncle John’s home for the last time; taste the cherished coffee that quickly becomes a luxury; and feel the confusion and hurt the first time Ma Joad is called an Okie. It is a story that depresses me. But, more than anything, and I believe is true to Steinbeck’s purpose in writing this book, it is a story that makes me angry. It makes me angry to know that so many Americans starved because people were afraid, disgusted, and in denial. It makes me angry because, more than 60 years later, many things have not changed. Only the face of migrant labor has changed, from downtrodden Americans, to downtrodden Mexicans and other immigrants. I first read this book in 10th grade, and at the time it had a profound impact on me, stirring both my love for John Steinbeck and a desire to help those in need. Ten years after I first read it, and it still has a powerful affect on me.
The feeling that there is no possibility for starting over:
“You’re not buying only junk, you’re buying junked lives.”
On religious difference in the labor camps:
The string band took a reel tune-up and played loudly, for they were not practicing anymore. In front of their tents the Jesus-lovers sat and watched, their faces hard and contemptuous. They did not speak to one another, they watched for sin, and their faces condemned the whole proceeding.
"Wisht I knowed what all the sins was, so I could do ‘em."
The sound of dissent being stirred:
There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates--died of malnutrition--because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.
The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen 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 the 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.