The Grapes of Wrath Nook Edition by John Steinbeck Click Here to Download the Book 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. The Grapes of Wrath is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes. A celebrated Hollywood film version, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford, was made in 1940.
Reviews I won’t yet go so far as to say these times are the same as the Great Depression, but I believe they will be if unemployment benefits are not extended. Reading this book, now, only reinforced that feeling (though I swear I wasn't looking for that; I had no recollection of the book from reading it in Jr. High.). I believe we’ve seen the same degree of economic shift that took place in the Depression, but that it has affected manufacturing workers instead of farmers. During the Great Depression, as Steinbeck reminds us, hundreds of thousands of former farmers became migrant workers instead, working at literally starvation level wages if they worked at all. There were often thousands of people in line for a few hundred jobs. There were no other jobs available. Many industries were affected, not just farming: construction, shipping, mining, railroads, logging and heavy manufacturing were all affected. In Detroit, where I am from, the Capuchins were feeding 800 people per day by Nov. 29, 1930. They recently sent mail quite literally begging for donations, so overwhelmed are they. They currently serve approximately 2,000 hot meals per day at their soup kitchens. Things are different, and the same. This book reminded me that the study of rhetoric is woefully absent from most U.S. educations. If it were not, our memories might be lengthened: We might realize that the same accusations of “communism” abounded during the 1930s, and that the unemployed were considered lazy for being on Relief. Steinbeck nails dialect and the language in use in a particular place in a particular time, and it's beautiful here. The same language is being used today to describe unemployed people who, now as then, would much rather have work rather than charity.
The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad family, forced by the Oklahoma dust bowl and unscrupulous capitalistic business interests to migrate west to the "promised land" of California. Instead of a land of milk and honey, the Joad's find poverty and despair as they, along with many other destitute people, are forced into migrant crop work owned and operated by those who exploit them. Steinbeck alternates chapters of the Joad's story with experimental prose and dramatization which paint the larger picture of the "Okie" migration west. I found these narratives to be rich and descriptive, adding depth and insight into the social, environmental and genetic forces fighting against those who had migrated west in search of work. At first the Joads are only concerned about the well-being of the family, but soon realize that they belong to a larger group suffering the same difficulties and hardships, which can only be overcome through a collective effort. As the Joad family begins to shrink in blood relations, it expands to include those related by plight; the poor helping the poorer. “In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. In the evening, sitting around the fires, the twenty were one.” Toward the end of the novel, one of the Joads remembers a passage from Ecclesiastes illustrating one of the main ideas in the novel, “Two are better than one, for they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lif’ up his fellow, but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he has not another to help him up.” This was a compelling read which I highly recommend. While the poverty and suffering depicted in the novel is depressing and sometimes difficult to read, the message of love, compassion, dignity and courage of the human
spirit is uplifting overall.
I hadn't read the entire book since high school, but I've taught the movie probably a dozen times. Time to go back to the source, I decided. I listened to the book his time - and the actor who read it was clearly familiar with the movie. He sounded just like Henry Fonda and John Carradine! He even did a pretty good Jane Darwell as Ma Joad. I have a few quibbles with the Steinbeck- in particular I thought some of Ma's big speeches were somewhere between pretentious and ridiculous. But that's just a quibble. Steinbeck defined how we view the Dust Bowl and the economic migration to Oklahoma, and he did it beautifully. The Joad family is as familiar to Americans as any family in American fiction, and Casy the preacher is one of the great characters in American fiction. I also loved the descriptive chapters (I forget what he called them) that he used to give the setting. The first of the dying crops - tears your heart out, and it is mirrored in the end with the description of the floods.
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