The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath
by: John Steinbeck

Challenges: My Year of Reading Dangerously, Classics Challenge

# of pages: 455

Published: 1939

I'm so glad I was able to finish this before the new year! This is a book I've wanted to read for a long time, but never got around too. It's going to be the last book of 2008 that I finished. And it was worth reading!

This novel by Steinbeck is so famous that most people already know what it's about. The story takes place during the Depression and follows a family from Oklahoma - the Joads. The entire family leaves their home and moves to California to enjoy what they imagine will be prosperity and comfort. Grampa talks about eating grapes when he gets there. It's all he wants to do and the whole family takes that as an image of the future, what they have to look forward to in California. The family slowly starts to figure out that their dreams aren't going to come true and that the California they imagined is just a myth.

In between the chapters about the Joad family, Steinbeck entwines his own narrative about the Depression and life in general during those times. He discusses the corruption of the rich and the generousness of the poor. He gives the reader facts about the Depression and scenarios of how the people made their way through buying a car to take them out west, their journey to California, their arrival, and the ways of their nomadic camp life.

Much of these things I learned in my 1930s American History class I took in college, but I enjoyed the review because of how great that class was. We didn't read this book in class although we discussed many of the things like the burning of perfectly good crops by the government, the Weedpatch camp, the handbills that were passed out all over the Midwest advertising work in California, etc. In our class we read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, another great way to learn more about life during the Depression.

Although there were times when I wished Steinbeck had left his chapters about general life and his own opinions out so that the story would move faster, I was still interested and wanted to keep reading to find out what happened next with the Joads. I liked all of the characters (except Casy). I did think that Steinbeck was occassionally harsh. Although I agree that the insanely rich should have shared land and food with the poor, I can't say I blame many of the middle class Californians for feeling threatened and not wanting to help out much. It's easy to look back and say, "People should have helped the immigrants out more and not whined about getting pay cuts so that others wouldn't starve," but I know that most of us would do that in the same situation.

I already hear people complaining about outsourcing and immigrants taking "our jobs." In the 30s, America was a big place and there wasn't much connection between the people of each region. I think that now the world isn't all that big of a place, we should all help each other out and understand that helping out the people of the world will eventually benefit us all. The Grapes of Wrath is a timeless novel and Steinbeck's ideas of men and women helping each other out, sticking together, and standing against corruption will never go out of date. Generosity and kindness in the midst of pain and suffering are always inspirational and I think that even in 100 years, people will still read and relate to this novel.


Andi said...

I didn't get around to this one for the challenge, but I'm really glad you found it worthwhile. I often struggle with Steinbeck, but I think I'll give this one a go sooner than later.

Andrea said...

I've heard other people who have read Steinbeck say that he's too long winded, wordy, etc. I didn't think this book was that bad. I was surprised because I didn't expect to like it so much. I've never read anything else by him, but my sister really disliked The Sea of Cortez but kind of liked Of Mice and Men. It's sad that she's read more Steinbeck than I have and she hates reading!

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