Friday, May 2, 2008

Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck © 1939
Published by Penguin Books Ltd.
1940 Pulitzer Prize Winner

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, is the story of the Joad family – tenant farmers from Oklahoma – and their migration to California to escape the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Through excellent characterization and a compelling storyline, the reader becomes a part of the Joad family, feeling their excitement and apprehension, the family bonds, their grief, despair and sadness, and their undying spirit to survive and prosper. Among the Joads' personal journey, Steinbeck has woven short, descriptive chapters that portray the bigger picture of the great migration and a changing America.

The family farm is becoming a thing of the past. Tractors and big business are taking over in search of bigger profits, and the families that have eked out an existence on these small farms are no longer needed or wanted. They are pushed out of their homes, one by one. Large farms in the West beckon them to California through handbills advertising “workers needed,” and the families head west by the hundreds, in hopes of finding the American dream. Little do they know how few will really find what they’re looking for.

But despite loss and heartache, discouragement and despair, despite the overwhelming odds, there is an undeniable feeling of unity among the people involved in this great migration. Family and strangers alike, all help one another when they’re in need. It is the overriding theme of the story – united we stand.

“How’s it go, Tom?”

“Goes, ‘Two are better than one, because 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 hath not another to help him up.’ That’s part of her.”

“Go on,” Ma said. “Go on, Tom.”

“Jus’ a little bit more. ‘Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him, and a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.’”

I was deeply moved by this story, perhaps because my own grandparents left their farm in Kansas during that time. My mother has memories – only five years old at the time – of leaving home, and of her father finding work in Arizona during the Dust Bowl. Fortunately, my grandparents owned their land and were able to return to their home in time, unlike the Joad family.

Perhaps it was this connection that made the ending – or non-ending – so difficult for me. I wanted, at least, an epilogue, telling me what finally became of the Joads. After feeling so deeply involved in their story, it was hard not knowing what ultimately happened to them. But maybe that was Steinbeck’s point. To make the reader think. To keep the reader wondering, as the Joad’s would have, what happens next?

Where do we go from here?


Wendy said...

Wonderful review, Heather. I also love this novel - and was deeply touched by it.

Inland Empire Girl said...

Great review... I can't believe I have never read this book. It is going on my list now!!!

Nicole Maddock said...

I was intrigued to see your inspiring review. I was talking about this very book just yesterday. It's a sign! I must read it.

Logo Pens said...

There is a large cast of fairly unknown (to me) actors, and each one has one`s own quirks and eccentricities. Perhaps they are a bit too quirky, actually. Much of the quirkiness exists not so much by the character`s actions, but by the way they speak. Every person in this film speaks in a deliberately colloquial manner, with fractured syntax and the like. The language is almost too perfect in its imperfection. But the movie should not be faulted too much for this, since we did not live when this film was made, when such dialogue was Hollywood`s newfound attempt to depict the common man. The story does not, ultimately, mock or deride the everyday folk, but praises their resourcefulness, and their strength of survival. In a sense, this is a socialist film, with its harsh critique of greedy, capitalist buisnessmen, and the positive outlook on government social relief. And its view of religion is also facinating in the character of Casey, a preacher who no longer has the heart to preach, now that he understands that the world is not as black-and-white as the Bible would have him believe. He discovers that there is more than even he thinks there is. Overall, this is a great film, which proves that even Hollywood films from bygone days can also transcend the fashionable and hip, and become art.