August 14, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Ships Launched: 669
Pages: 406
Publisher: Bantam Books
Year Published: 1939
Genre: Classic
Synopsis: John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression follows the western movement of one family and a nation in search of work and human dignity. Perhaps the most American of American classics. The novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other "Okies", they sought jobs, land, dignity and a future. When preparing to write the novel, Steinbeck wrote: "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects]." The book won Steinbeck a large following among the working class, perhaps due to the book's sympathy to the workers' movement and its accessible prose style.

Hm. The Grapes of Wrath. Let me just say that I did not read this book for pleasure. I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I’m not so intellectual as to pick up a, dare I say, boring classic and call it light reading (that’s Gemma). No, The Grapes of Wrath was our summer reading assignment. And usually, I don’t like summer reading assignments. I just hate when someone tells you to read. No matter how good the book is, I always feel a bit disgruntled that I have to follow orders and obediently turn page after page…
But, surprisingly, I liked The Grapes of Wrath. I don’t know what I expected, but I wasn’t expecting how deep and moving the book was.
The story begins with a chapter on dust.
Don’t let that scare you away! It’s interesting dust. It’s sad dust. The dusty things the dust does hurts people, but I don’t think the dust can help it.
Then Tom Joad comes along. Now, poor Tom Joad has just gotten out of prison on parole for killing a man, but he isn’t vicious. In fact, just the opposite. I like to think of Tom as a gentle giant. He has the power, but he wouldn’t hurt anyone unless he had to. Tom picks up a ride with a trucker on his way home to his family. He meets up with his old preacher who isn’t a preacher anymore, Jim Casy. They head together up to the house where Tom’s family lived.
Now, for those of you readers who haven’t yet read The Grapes of Wrath, I’ll stop there. If you haven’t noticed, we try not to be spoiler-y…
The Joad family wasn’t perfect, by any means. The children, Ruthie and Winfield, liked to beat other kids up a bit too much. The dad kept grumbling about wanting to beat his wife. Al, Tom’s younger brother, had an amazingly one-track mind; he pursued girls with abandon. And Noah, bless his little soul, just seemed quiet, lonely, and sad. The whole time.
But the Joads were good people. They looked out for their own. If someone needed help, they always tried to help, even if they weren’t in the position to be helping others.
Ma Joad held everyone together. She did every single thing she could to keep her family together. She had a sort of fiery determination in her that never ceased, even when she was bone tired and nothing seemed okay. The Joad family would never have made it anywhere without her.
Grampa and Granma Joad were good and ornery, just like a lot of other old people. They may have been ornery, but they were still good people.
Rosasharn seemed pitiful, most of the time. I mean, she was pregnant throughout the entire book. But, I don’t know. Sometimes she seemed a bit whiny and selfish, but that could have been the pregnancy hormones talking. I couldn’t really, erm, relate to that, so I don’t know. But her name? Which is it, Rosasharn or Rose of Sharon?
Connie. Connie, Connie, Connie. I think Connie was a good guy. He wanted to create a life for Rosasharn and him, but he just couldn’t figure it out. He got scared.
Al was also a good person. What am I saying? They’re all good people, they just have flaws here and there. Like real life. Al was kind of the guts and glory kind of dude. He wanted the girls, and he wanted the girls. He tried to be as much of a ladies’ man as possible, when he wasn’t working hard. He also seemed a tad arrogant, to me.
The story in The Grapes of Wrath made me sad. All of those poor people, uprooted from their homes, deceived into going to Caifornia, and treated like dirt there. I don’t know how they could have handled it. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to stand all of the uncertainty, the hard labor, the frustration, all of it. They were strong, these people. But sometimes, they just weren’t strong enough.
Pretty soon into the book, I figured out that Steinbeck wrote with a sort of pattern. He’d have one long chapter about the plot and one short chapter with philosophical thinking and beautiful descriptions after it. This continued for the whole book.
My favorite part of the book was the short, philosophical chapters. I actually started tearing up during one passage because, well, it was just so beautiful and sad.
Even though I did not find The Grapes of Wrath very exciting, I’m glad I read it. If you have the time to pick up this four hundred page novel, then I suggest you do so. It is well worth the read.

            “Two hundred and fifty thousand people over the road. Fifty thousand cars – wounded, steaming. Wrecks along the road, abandoned. Well, what happened to them? What happened to the folks in that car? Did they walk? Where are they? Where does that courage come from? Where does the terrible faith come from? And here’s a story you can hardly believe, but it’s true, and it’s funny and it’s beautiful. There was a family of twelve and they were forced off the land. They had no car. They built a trailer out of junk and loaded it with their possessions. They pulled it to the side of the 66 and waited. And pretty soon a sedan picked them up. Five of them rode in the sedan and seven on the trailer, and a dog on the trailer, and they got to California in two jumps. The man who pulled them fed them. And that’s true. But how can such courage be, and such faith in their own species? Very few things would teach such faith.
            “The people in flight from the terror behind – strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.”
                                                            (Chapter 12, page 106)

Also, everything in chapter 14 is absolutely amazing.
There’s a lot more stuff I could put up here, but I don’t want to make this post too long.
                        + 30 – The beauty of Steinbeck’s writing. He makes a turtle crossing the road seem utterly fascinating.
                        -  11 – As Gemma puts it, the preacher is kind of a pervert. It’s a tad disturbing.

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