Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Grapes of Wrath

What can I say about a book that won its author the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature after first being banned and burned?  Steinbeck was labeled a socialist and writer of communist propaganda, but now The Grapes of Wrath is required reading in many high schools and universities.  Not only does he take the reader on a journey from "I" to "we", but he does so by winding through pages of vivid natural prose.

     In Steinbeck's depiction of the farmers' connection to the earth, their sense of place and the horror of their forced separation from their homes, his kinship with Dickens (Hard Times) and Hardy (Tess of the d'Urbervilles) is apparent. We hear echoes of Dickens' labor uprisings in "The line between hunger and anger is a thin line," and Hardy's ache of modernism is manifest in "The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not loved or hated, it had no prayers or curses."  Steinbeck is a link in a chain that continues to the present in people like Indian environmental activist and proponent of alter-globalization Vandana Shiva.

Compare Steinbeck:
And at last the owner men came to the point. The tenant system won't work anymore. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families. Pay him a wage and take all the crop. We have to do it. We don't like to do it. But the monster's sick. Something's happened to the monster...The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it...We can't depend on it. The bank – the monster – has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll die. No, taxes go on. When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size

with Shiva:
The World Bank has historically used its clout to promote undemocratic processes ... They have pushed India to violate the laws of the tribals and the farmers, because once they settle on a certain line of investment, then no law that supports the democratic rights of the people can survive - if they finance a superhighway that highway gets built, if they finance a mining project, that project happens no matter who or what it destroys in the process.

main characters: the Joad family, the land
oddly enlightened former preacher: Jim Casey
slow but steady: land tortoise
growing heavy for the vintage in the souls of the people: grapes of wrath
there was a lot of: dust, heat, loss, separation, hunger, illness, violence, people taking advantage of others, loyalty to friends and family
there should have been more: bacon, coffee  (those poor people ate biscuits all the time)
this book makes you want to: make a family home that will last for generations, cultivate friendships and family relationships, see the wonder and beauty around you 
this book makes you glad you don't have to: drive a thousand miles without knowing what's at the end of your journey, suffer from malnutrition, owe your soul to the company store

1 comment:

bren j. said...

If Steinbeck was a Socialist...I guess it's really no surprise that "The Grapes of Wrath' is required reading in high school/uni.....

I tried to like Steinbeck, I really did, but "The Pearl" was about the end of me.