Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature
Perhaps the most American of American classics, The Grapes of Wrath follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation during the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s. It is also the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California.
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About the Author
John Steinbeck (1902–1968), born in Salinas, California, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).
After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.
Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942). Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright (1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.
The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata! (1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America’s greatest writers and cultural figures.
Robert DeMott (editor/introduction) is the Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor at Ohio State University and author of Steinbeck's Typewriter, an award-winning book of critical essays.
Date of Birth:February 27, 1902
Date of Death:December 20, 1968
Place of Birth:Salinas, California
Place of Death:New York, New York
Education:Attended Stanford University intermittently between 1919 and 1925
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Excerpted from "The Grapes of Wrath"
Copyright © 2006 John Steinbeck.
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What People are Saying About This
“Steinbeck is a poet. . . . Everything is real, everything perfect.” —Upton Sinclair, Common Sense
“I think, and with earnest and honest consideration . . . that The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest American novel I have ever read." — Dorothy Parker
“It seems to me as great a book as has yet come out of America.” —Alexander Woollcott
Reading Group Guide
When John Steinbeck accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, he described the writer's obligation as "dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement." For some critics, that purpose has obscured Steinbeck's literary value. He has been characterized variously as an advocate of socialist-style solutions to the depredations of capitalism, a champion of individualism, a dabbler in sociobiology, and a naturalist.
While evidence for different political and philosophical stances may be culled from Steinbeck's writings, a reader who stops at this point misses some of the most interesting aspects of his work, including his use of paradox. "Men is supposed to think things out," insists Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. "It ought to have some meaning" (p. 55). But in this epic novel, as well as in Of Mice and Men and The Pearl, Steinbeck seems to question whether the mysteries of human existence can ever be fully explained. In these works that span the grim decade from 1937 to 1947, Steinbeck urges the dispossessed to challenge a system that denies them both sustenance and dignity, and to seek the spiritual belonging that enables individuals to achieve their full humanity. So we have the paradox of the author apparently denouncing injustice while also exalting acceptance of the sorrows visited on humanity, whether those sorrows are wrought by nature or by humans themselves.
All three books examine the morality and necessity of actions the characters choose as they pursue their dreams. The poor fisherman Kino in The Pearl dreams of education for his son and salvation for his people. We first meet him in the dimness before dawn, listening to the sounds of his wife, Juana, at her chores, which merge in his mind with the ancestral Song of the Family. "In this gulf of uncertain light [where] there were more illusions than realities" (p. 19), the pearl that Kino finds lights the way to a more just world and the end of centuries of mistreatment by white colonizers. But the promise of wealth manifests the archetypal evil hidden in the community's unconscious, like the pearl that had lain hidden in its oyster at the bottom of the sea. As the dream turns dark, Kino descends into violence, bringing death to four men and ultimately to his own son. What other choices might he have made? This parable raises questions about our relationship to nature, the human need for spiritual connection, and the cost of resisting injustice.
Steinbeck's most controversial work, The Grapes of Wrath, raises similar questions. During the Dust Bowl Era, three generations of the Joad family set out on the road, seeking a decent life in fertile California and joining thousands of others bound by an experience that transforms them from "I" to "we" (p. 152). Cooperation springs up among them spontaneously, in sharp contrast with the ruthlessness of big business and the sad choices made by its victims, for whom "a fella got to eat" (p. 344) is a continual refrain. Casy, the preacher turned strike leader, wonders about the "one big soul ever'body's a part of" (p. 24).
On their journey to the promised land, the characters in The Grapes of Wrath confront enigmatic natural forces and dehumanizing social institutions. Casy is martyred as he takes a stand for farmers who have lost their land to drought and are brutally exploited as migrant laborers. His disciple Tom Joad, who served time for killing a man in a bar fight, ultimately kills another man he believes responsible for Casy's death. Tom's passionate conviction—expressed in his assertion that "wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there" (p. 419)—stirs our sympathy; but his dilemma, like Kino's, requires us to ask whether taking a human life can ever be justified.
The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl are also linked by their female characters and the questions they raise about gender roles and family identity. In The Pearl, Juana's "quality of woman, the reason, the caution, the sense of preservation, could cut through Kino's manness and save them all" (p. 59). Is this quality most responsible for the return of the pearl to the sea at the end of the novel? Like Juana, Ma Joad is "the citadel of the family" (p. 74). As the remnants of the Joad family seek refuge in a barn at the close of The Grapes of Wrath, Ma's daughter Rose of Sharon nurses a starving stranger with milk meant for her dead baby. This final scene of female nurturing offers a resolution while also disturbing our long-held ideas about family.
Steinbeck departs from this depiction of women in Of Mice and Men. Confined to her husband's home, and never given a name in the novel, Curley's wife functions almost as a force of nature, precipitating the events that wreck the men's "best laid schemes," as poet Robert Burns wrote. Whereas the women in The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl suggest hope even in the bleakest of circumstances, Curley's wife leaves only shattered dreams in her wake.
Of Mice and Men tells a tightly compressed story set during the Great Depression. George and Lennie, drifters and friends in a landscape of loners, scrape by with odd jobs while dreaming of the time they'll "live on the fatta the lan'" (p. 101). Lennie has a massive body and limited intelligence, and his unpredictable behavior casts George as his protector. The novel is peopled with outcasts—a black man, a cripple, a lonely woman. The terror of the consequences of infirmity and old age in an unresponsive world is underscored when a laborer's old dog is shot. Is Lennie's similar death at the hands of his protector, with his dream before his eyes, preferable to what the future holds for him? Nearly all the characters share in some version of the dream, recited almost ritualistically, and in their narrow world it is pitifully small: "All kin's a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We'd jus' live there. We'd belong there" (p. 54).
The ending appears to be at odds with Steinbeck's explicit exhortations for social change in the other two novels. In Of Mice and Men, he seems to appeal to a higher form of wisdom in the character of Slim, who does not aspire to anything beyond the sphere he occupies. His "understanding beyond thought" (p. 31) echoes Rose of Sharon's mysterious smile at the end ofThe Grapes of Wrath.
From the questions his characters pose about what it means to be fully human, Steinbeck may be understood to charge literature with serving not only as a call to action, but as an expression and acceptance of paradox in our world. "There is something untranslatable about a book," he wrote. "It is itself—one of the very few authentic magics our species has created."
ABOUT JOHN STEINBECK
John Steinbeck's groundbreaking and often controversial work, with its eye on the common people, earned him both high praise and sharp criticism. In addition to his novels, Steinbeck produced newspaper and travel articles, short stories, plays, and film scripts.
Born in 1902 in Salinas, California, Steinbeck spent much of his life in surrounding Monterey county, the setting for some of his books. His experience as a young man working menial jobs, including as a farm laborer, ranch hand, and factory worker, was transformed into descriptions of the lives of his working-class characters. After attending Stanford University intermittently for six years, Steinbeck traveled by freighter to New York, where he worked briefly as a journalist before returning to California.
His first novel, Cup of Gold, appeared in 1929, but it was Tortilla Flat (1935), his picaresque tale of Monterey's paisanos, that first brought Steinbeck serious recognition. Of Mice and Men (1937) was also well received. The Grapes of Wrath (1939), a book many claim is his masterpiece, was both critically acclaimed and denounced for its strong language and apparent leftist politics. Always shunning publicity, Steinbeck headed for Mexico in 1940, where he made The Forgotten Village, a documentary film about conditions in rural Mexico. He spent the war years as a correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, for which he later toured the Soviet Union in 1947; he also wrote the novel The Moon Is Down (1942), about Norwegian resistance to the Nazis.
Steinbeck's other notable works of fiction include The Pearl (1947), East of Eden (1952), and The Winter of Our Discontent(1961). He also wrote a memoir of a cross-country trip with his poodle, Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962). Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He died in New York in 1968. His work stands as testament to his commitment to "celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit."
The Grapes of Wrath
- Are we meant to conclude that Tom's killing of the deputy is justified?
- What makes Casy believe that "maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of" (p. 24)?
- Why does Steinbeck devote a chapter to the land turtle's progress on the highway?
- Why does Pa yield his traditional position in the family to Ma?
- What does Ma mean when she says, "Bearin' an' dyin' is two pieces of the same thing" (p. 210)?
- As Tom leaves the family, he says, "I'll be ever'where—wherever you look" (p. 419). In what sense does he mean "everywhere"?
- Why does Steinbeck interrupt the Joads' narrative with short chapters of commentary and description?
- Why does Rose of Sharon smile as she feeds the starving man with milk intended for her baby?
- What does Steinbeck mean when he writes, "In the souls of the people The Grapes of Wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage" (p. 349)?
- Why do different characters insist at different points in the book, "A fella got to eat" (p. 344, for example)?
- Why does the book start with drought and end with floods?
- Is the family intact at the end of the novel?
- Why does Uncle John set the dead baby adrift rather than bury it?
- What is the source of Ma's conviction that "we're the people—we go on" (p. 280)?
- Does nature function as a force for either good or evil in this book?
For Further Reflection
- As his land is destroyed, an anonymous tenant says, "We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change" (p. 38). Is Steinbeck suggesting that a just social order is possible?
- When the narrator says "men ate what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread" (p. 36), the implication is that this break diminishes humanity. Can spirituality be maintained with increasing automation?
- Casy tells Tom about a prisoner whose view of history is that "ever' time they's a little step fo'ward, she may slip back a little, but she never slips clear back... they wasn't no waste" (p. 384). Do you agree with this view?
The Grapes of Wrath
John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer (1925)
The alienating effects of capitalism, technology, and urbanization are portrayed in this montage of life in New York City.
Tomás Rivera,... y no se lo trag— la tierra/... (And the Earth Did Not Devour Him) (1971)
A seminal work of Latino literature, these thirteen vignettes embodying the anonymous voice of "the people" depict the exploitation of Mexican American migrant workers.
Émile Zola, Germinal (1885)
The striking miners in this nineteenth-century tale of class struggle are cast as the victims of both an unjust social system and their own human weaknesses.
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
Winner of the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this novella tells the story of an old fisherman's endurance as he pursues, captures, and ultimately loses a great marlin.
D. H. Lawrence, "The Rocking-Horse Winner" (in The Woman Who Rode Away and Other Stories) (1928)
This fablelike short story follows a boy to his tragic end as he desperately tries to respond to his family's obsession with money.
Of Mice and Men
Frank Norris, McTeague (1899)
In this pioneering naturalistic novel set in California, a man of large physical but small intellectual powers pursues a dream beyond menial tasks, but is corrupted by "civilization."
Leo Tolstoy, "Master and Man" (in Master and Man and Other Stories) (1895)
The relationship between a greedy landowner and his gentle laborer undergoes a dramatic change in this novella when the two are trapped in a snowstorm
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck is an all time classic novel that depicts the reality of the Great Depression during the 1930's. The story first takes place in Oklahoma where the Dust Bowl had hit many crops and open fields where farmers farmed, children played, and had also hit the worst place to be hit-the lives of innocent people who lived day by day off their land. Because food and jobs were scarce, many families were forced to pack up what ever belongings they had left and move west. The main characters who take on the expedition of a new life are Tom, Ma, Pa, Jim, and Rose of Sharon. Each character has their own special quality's that they carry within that suffices the long and hard journey to California. While on the road the characters find not only how difficult it is to survive, but there are many things that have to be sacrificed in order for the majority to move on. Within the storyline you will find bumpy roads and battles that the characters must endure, thus so does every other book, however, this book will catch your attention very quickly because you will not only feel empathy for each and every character, as they struggle through the day, but you will be able to relive the hardships of the 1930's and think to yourself, "Wow, this tragic event actually happened to ordinary people and they survived." John Steinbeck is an amazing author and has never let his readers down. You will be oh so very delighted to read this book and will not ever want to close it.
At times, I had to make myself plow through this one. It was very depressing, made more so by the fact that things like what the Joads went through actually happened. I'm 'anti-spoiler', so I won't give away the ending, but let me just say that the ending hit me hard. It's as if the whole story came back to slap me in the face, making the power of it much stronger. I'm glad I finished it.
As much a political manifesto as the simple story of a family forced to leave their family farm and seek a new life in California, the Grapes of Wrath is a masterpiece of American literature. Set in the American West at the start of the mass migration to the West Coast, the story follows the Joad family from the foreclosure of their farm through the long road trip along Route 66 and finally to their lives as migrant workers in a land overflowing with workers. Their lives and hardships are vividly painted in Steinbeck's outstanding prose.
Steinbeck alternates styles in each chapter. Every other chapter details the story of the Joads. In the remaining chapters Steinbeck uses a repetitive, haphazard, ungrammatical, absolutely brilliant style to sketch a scene from the life of a migrant family, ostensibly the Joads. In these chapters, he conveys scenes such as the high-paced action of a used car lot, the bitterness of a family receiving foreclosure notice, or the back breaking work of cotton picking with such clarity and color that the words of the book seem to fall away leaving the reader with a tangible world in which voices are shouting or the breeze is tossing the cotton tufts into the air. In my own reading, I've seen many authors try to mimic this unstructured, repetitive style, but never done as well as this.
The story is rich with symbolism and emotion. While there are some spots where Steinbeck seems to be working too hard, the book as a whole is a wonderful read. You will come away a little more educated about that era in America's history, a little more sympathetic to the plight of migrant workers, and maybe even a little more left-leaning in your political views. Regardless of what you intend to get out of it, the Grapes of Wrath is absolutely recommended for anyone of the maturity to understand the deep themes that run through the story. Highly recommended novel.
I had to read this book for a tenth grade summer assignment. To tell you the truth, I thought it was going to be terribly boring? I thought, "What adventures could this family possibly go through that would be worth putting into a book?" I was so wrong! This book is amazing. Not difficult to understand; definitely an ideal American Literature novel. The only thing I disliked about the book was the chapters in between that described in GENERAL the experiences of migrant farmers during the Great Depression. Some of them were interesting, but in general, boring and hard to understand. But don't let that stop you from reading the book. It's great!
Even when I first read this in high scool I enjoyed it, but now it seems eve3n better to me. Maybe it's having such a hard time with finding work or working in such a crap job when I do, but this is a book that holds up to time in both the texture and pleasure of the story and in the subjects it tacles. I recomend it to anyone willing to let a little bit of real into their fiction.
While having been writtin in 1939, John Steinbeck wrote a masterpiece that is as contemporary today in its ideas as it was when it was written. The simple matter is that the "monster" never went away, it only grew and, "it breathes profits. If it doesn't have profits it will wither and die." The more things have changed, the more the banks and asset holders haven't. We've gone from the Great Depression to the Great Denial, now referred to as the "Great Recession." This is a masterpiece that highlights the depth of people in a time of trial, and shows that even if society should lose its humanity, there will still be individuals who will bring hope for the future. The genius of this book is in the ending. Whether it is a tragic or hopeful ending is left to how the reader sees the last chapter, as an ending or as a new beginning. FD.
This is, as far as I'm concerned, the most perfect novel ever written. It is at once a very simple story about a simple family and their struggles during the Dust Bowl era, and at the same time it is a complex commentary on a plethora of social issues that still affect working people today. Even the language of the book is deceptively simple, until the depth of what Steinbeck is saying through his characters or through his descriptions of the land hit you. Then you realize that what he has done is amazing...he's taken the simplest words and the simplest characters and created poetry.
The Grapes of Wrath is definitely an American classic. John Steinbeck has written a magnificent story that captures the hopes, shattered dreams and intense struggles of the Joad family during the Great Depression. This book is a must read for anyone looking for a stimulating book that will leave a big impression on you for a long time!
The story is about an Oklahoma family,the Joads. After Tom is released from prison for killing someone, he finds his house is torn dow, and he leads his family to work in California. My dad is the one who recommended this book for me, because he is a great fan of classics, and I guess I inherited that from him. This book is an absolutely, positively, must! Steinbeck, as every author does, has his own unique writing style. In a way, he is like another one of my favorite authors, Hemingway. He has a very simplistic, but beautiful writing style. The story is a sort of historical social realism and that's what makes me different from today's readers. Instead of the modern-day thriller, I'm into these kinds of stories.
This is one of the best written books from John Steinbeck. Tom Joad is a classic character. A must read for anyone interested in classic American literature.
The Grapes of Wrath is my absolute favorite novel of all time. It's beautifully written- honestly written. I recommend this book to everyone- some may say that it starts out slow, but only to set the whole mood of the story. It is full of hardships, sadness, passion, the will to survive and the love of a family trying to hold it together while they begin to lose everything. Shocking, historical, emotional. Don't miss this book -or the powerful ending!
If you read steinbeck you know how his words intertwine lushously to create characters we want to know and feel we do. Ive read this book twice now and yet i must ask what happened to the ending??? Its as if he just decided one day he didnt want to write about the joad family anymore. Like falling off a cliff the book just stops. As much as i wanted to see any sort of resolution to the many storylines and didnt get it, the book is that good. Still gets 5 stars
To be honest, the book was at first was hard to get through quickly, and the language at times was hard to understand or to stay interested in. But as far as the storyline went it become more surreal and imaginable, the life questions asked within the book can really get you thinking. The wonderful reading experience from this book was being able to analyze the characters and certain themes that Steinback purposefully put out there to catch with easy notice, I, personally like being able to grasp on to the themes and characteristics of the characters and plot. It gives me a better understanding of the essence of the book. Here are some things that struck me: The courage and stronghold of the Ma Joad impressed me quite a bit. Her character of being the ultimate anchor of the whole family and fulfilling her job as a wife, and mother of many children. Even though her own husband acts cowardly and always "turns away" in shame whenever confronted by her. Tom Joad you can also see a developing change in character throughout the book. He begins with a 'only today and no tomorrow' kind of outlook on life because of his experience in prison. But as he experiences the cruelty of possessiveness of the owners of the companies and jobs in California he begins to think more of the future and how to prepare and protect people and his family. Rose of Sharon also developed in her character, at the beginnning she was just a young pregnant and married lady,hopeful for a brand new happy life with her husband, but having to deal with extreme hardships of death, abandonment, and sorrow and overcoming them with a stronger hope, faith. Oh and by the way! Here's a hint! The true greatness of this book is not shown till the very last page, so I would still recommend to read this book.
The Grapes of Wrath is a great American classic novel ,that was a quick read and I book that I loved, it shows the struggle that most families had to face during the 1930s, The Great Depression, and the Dust Bowl. The main characters Ma, Pa, Tom, Al, and Rose of Sharon, all struggle on the long and hard journey from Oklahoma to the big cities of California. They are forced to leave their home, when there all of their decedents grew up and made their home, to find work to try to stay alive. Soon they will all realize how hard this task will be. While their family struggled to stay alive their relationships grew stronger within their family as the time went on through out there long journey. I have found that this book is defiantly one of the best books that I have ever read. Although that it was written many years ago it is still around and popular and a great novel to this day. I believe that John Steinbeck is a wonderful author, and he wrote this book, as of many others, very well. To wrap it up I think that this is a very wonderful book to read. It is written with passion, love, and it interests almost everyone. I would recommend this book for all ages, no matter if you are thirteen or sixty five this is a magnificent book to curl up with on the couch and read. It is one of those books that when you start it you cannot stop and you will never want to put it down!
Yes read this book. If you watch the movie you will miss half of the book. I would say that this is excellent read and quick also. It is a little sad and it makes you think about history.
The dust bowl migration of the Joad family in the 1930's chronicles a thought provoking subject and is told in an amazing writing style. The simple nature of the characters is depicted without apology. Steinbeck's use of their Southern dialect is authentic and coarse, but it contrasts with their noble approach to life and living. I loved this book and will probably read it again.
I read this book for Book Club as times are tough today but after reading the book we all realized that we still have it pretty easy. It took a while getting into the book as the first 100 pages are bit slow. But after that I could not put the book down. I heard that Steinbeck followed a family from Oklahoma to California and that is how he got his material for the book. The big takeaway for me is it made me think of how Hispanic Farm workers are treated today (2009) and it is a lot similar to how the Joad family and others were treated during the dust bowl.
I starting reading this novel for an American Literature class and ended up buying it to place in my library. An incredible story about a family's hardships during the Dust Bowl. Wonderful symbolisms and motifs. A brilliant read.
THE WAY HE WRITES AND COMPOSES WORDS! THE WAY THE CHARACTORS IN THIS BOOK HAVE EFFECTED ME IS AMAZING! I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD NEVER HAVE SO MUCH PASSION AND HEART SINCE "EAST OF EDEN". THEY WAS THE STORY FLOWS AND THE WRITING GOES MAKES YOU WANT MORE! HOPE FOR THE FAMILY WILL FILL YOUR SOUL, AND MAKE YOU LOOK AT YOURSELF! LOOK AT YOURSELF AND WHAT THEY ARE GOING THROUGH AND WHAT YOU ARE. WHAT BAD THINGS ARE GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE? THIS BOOK WILL MAKE YOU SIT BACK AND SAY " HEY I KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT, AND MY LIFE ISN'T SO BAD". AT LEAST FOR ME! ANYBODY WHO HAS BEEN THROUGH ANY BIT OF STRUGGLE....OR ABYBODY WHO ENJOYS GREAT READING...THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU!!!
This book is amazing! I plan to read East of Eden and Of Mice and Men as a result of enjoying this book so much. It is truly a great book.
I never had to read it in school, but I wanted to read it on my own. It's a great book and has many lessons in it, especially if you have traveled from place to place. I truly enjoyed it.
so much time has gone by I think we all need to read and remember. then reread chaper 19 again.
This a really good book. The only flaw I see is length, but its worth it. the description is amazing and you can almost envision whats going on as it happens. Not only that but he makes it as though you're reading about the time period more than the main characters. He is the first author I've read; pulling it off in a way I thought not really possible.
Steinbeck wrote some good novels, some that are even almost great (East of Eden comes to mind); this, however, is not one of them. The Grapes of Wrath is little more than bad communist propaganda.It isn't that the kinds of things he describes didn't happen, but the way he presents them---without looking for the deeper cause (rather than pulling out the tired old scarecrow of "greed", an abused and vague term anyway) or offering a real solution but rather simply pushing for a (dubious at best) political program---is not only unrealistic, it isn't artistic either. About the only time it approaches the level of genuine literary expression is when Casy goes on about how his idea of holy is for every man to be shackled, not even to every other man, but to Mankind as a whole. That's a horrible thought, but at least it's a somewhat deeper one.Even Tom Joad's famous "Whenever you seen a cop beatin' a guy..." speech is all about the insignificance of the individual, and as if to prove his point, Steinbeck continues the story for quite a while after that but Tom (despite having been the main character up to that point) does not reappear.And stylistically, this is one of Steinbeck's worst...it could be described as faux-Hemingway---lots of awkward sentences, unnecessary repetitions of words rather than using pronouns, etc. But it actually reads more like Socialist realism than anything else. It has a lot in common with some stuff put out by the Union of Soviet Writers under Stalin around that time. East of Eden is much better written, though Steinbeck is still using some techniques he seems to have learned from writers like Kataev.I did a bit of research after finishing this, and it looks like Steinbeck actually joined and had further involvement with the League of American Writers, which was set up by the Communist Party USA in 1935 in sympathy with the Union of Soviet Writers putting its policy of controlling and censoring the output of authors into effect the year before. Anyway, enough was known here about what was going on under the Soviet system by the time he wrote The Grapes of Wrath that he couldn't have had any honest excuse for glorifying it like that.I suspect that the only reason The Grapes of Wrath is considered such a great classic is that it was heavily pushed by the press which was highly sympathetic to communism in this country at the time of its release, and because of the movie version with Henry Fonda. People like to pretend that Steinbeck wrote books like this for "the common man", but the truth is it's incredibly patronizing and condescending; he really wrote it for wealthy intellectuals like himself to feel better about themselves. As someone who's in the working class himself (but doesn't intend to stay there his whole life), I think if I ever met Steinbeck I would have slapped his face, because The Grapes of Wrath is basically a slap in mine.
This is a classic which needs to be read by those who want to be well informed about American literature and history. It's interesting to note how this book is an accepted part of American culture today, but in its time it was very controversial. It is my understanding that Steinbeck's home town of Salinas, CA held organized book burnings of Grapes of Wrath during the 1930's. Today the City has a museum that honors his memory. How times change! Or do they? The haunting reality is that the story describes things that are very similar to what is happening today with undocumented immigrants. Perhaps a new Grapes of Wrath needs to be written that can inspire some new book burnings and ultimately change our country.Read April 2007