On The Grapes of Wrath

Posted by Jack on 2020-03-07 at 18:00
Tagged: books
TitleThe Grapes of Wrath
AuthorJohn Steinbeck

At this point I'm a confirmed Steinbeck fan, but I'll admit that I was a bit lukewarm on this book right up until the end. The story of the Joad family is actually only half of the text, with every other chapter being this sort of disconnected world building that basically serves as a very eloquent soapbox for Steinbeck to stand on, and while I appreciate Steinbeck making it clear that the system was rigged against a whole class of Americans, these chapters weren't as compelling as the more focused Joad chapters.

That said, the end really took the whole book up a notch for me. I kept expecting the Joad family's journey to end in some sort of positive way. Not necessarily some white picket fence fantasy life, but maybe starting to put down the roots of a new life in California. It never happened. The Joad family, and the class of Americans they represent, just get kicked over and over and over. Nobody's life is better at the end. The core of the family is still together, but penniless and literally underwater on the verge of winter. The grandparents are dead, Noah wandered off, Tom is on the run, Rose of Sharon is abandoned by her boyfriend and has a stillborn child.

Admittedly I took a lot of socialist views into this book but I can definitely see how contemporary critics attacked Steinbeck for his views when they work against the American streak of cowboy rugged individualism. There is a lot of meat on a socialist or collectivist reading of the work, and Steinbeck does not shy away from being quite overt about what he believes to be the solution to the plight of these workers. In that way, I think now is a very good time to read this classic - the sort of inequality Steinbeck rails against is still present in every aspect of our society and it's good to see what that looked like in the age before the corporations learned we were more useful with full bellies and empty wallets. Tom Joad was a hero 90 years ago, and he's still a hero today.

Anyway, this classic doesn't disappoint.