Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Grapes of Wrath

Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Year: 1939 Pages: 473pgs
Rating: A
Book From:
Personal collection (originally my father's)

Grapes of Wrath is a story about ordinary people stuck in hard times. They strive to preserve their humanity in the face of overwhelming odds, and people who view them as little more than wild beasts: “Well, you and me got sense. Them goddamn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain’t human. A human being wouldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and miserable. They ain’t a hell of a a lot better than gorillas.” Steinbeck’s epic novel personifies the nature of (in)equality and (in)justice in Depression-era America.
The migration west during the Dust Bowl involved hundreds of thousands of people. John Steinbeck’s style incorporates the plight of one family, the Joads, while interspersing chapters that chronicle the struggle that is taking place on a much larger level. It is stark, real, and extremely powerful.

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.


Wendy said...

Wonderful review! This is one of my all time favorite books - extremely powerful writing that swamped me emotionally. You are so right...the only thing that seems to have changed are the nationalities; which is sad. Have you read Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle? This book effected me much the same as The Grapes of Wrath...and has been compared to Steinbeck's great classic.

Literary Feline said...

Great review! I tried to read Of Mice and Men long ago, but was not able to make it far into the novel. My husband really enjoyed Cannery Row when he read it. Someday I may try another Steinbeck novel.

SuziQoregon said...

I've had this on my 'someday' list for a long time now. You're making me want to start a list for the next classics challenge by putting this on it.

Nyssaneala said...

Wendy - Thanks! This is also one of my faves - although I do like East of Eden a little more. I haven't read Tortilla Curtain yet, but would like to.

Literary Feline - Of Mice and Men is probably my least favorite of Steinbeck's. You should give him another chance.

Suziqoregon - That's always the fun part of reading other blogs, adding to your own TBR lists!

Anonymous said...

heyy this review really helped. although, i didn't really find this novel very interesting, personally i thought it completely sucked. but thats just my opinion

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