Friday, October 31, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck chronicles the quest of the Joads from Oklahoma, where they've been evicted from the family farm by the banks and tractors, to find a better life for their family and children. Like so many depression era families they were drawn to California. While they start out dreaming of a white house, a garden, school for the children, new clothes and a car, in the end they can only pray not to starve to death over the wet California winter.

Even seventy years later, it is obvious why John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The writing is emotional and engaging. The book alternates between chapters reporting the broad picture and specific chapters about the Joads, their hopes and dreams, theie efforts and failures.

The book has two main themes. First, the Okies, migrant farm workers, are people and not the dehumanized animals depicted by the land owners, food processors, police and towns people. Second, these people need to organize to address their situation, because no one else will help.

What has happened in the last seventy years? Migrant farm workers are still demonized by their opponents, but thirty-to-forty years after The Grapes of Wrath, the farm workers finally organized and made some progress to improve conditions.

In addition to these broad issues, the book also illustrates some enduring American values.

"He got a gun. He'll use it 'cause he's a deputy. The he either got to kill you or you got to get his gun away an' kill him."
"I tell ya, a one-eye' fella got a hard row..."
"Ya full a crap. Why, I knowed a one-legged whore one time. Think she was taking two-bits in a alley? No, by God! She's getting half a dollar extra. She says, 'How many one-legged women you slept with?'"
"Is mush all we get after workin' til dark?"
"Al, you know we got to git. Take all we got for gas. You know."
"But, God Awmighty, Ma! A fella needs meat if he's gonna work."

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