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The Grapes of Wrath ()


San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Novels of the West (2)

Tom Joad has just gotten out of prison for manslaughter.  He returns to his family's Oklahoma cotton farm only to find the farm deserted and the region devastated by the Dust Bowl.  When he catches up to the family, at his Uncle's farm, the whole clan heads to California in a Hudson Super-Six truck, hoping to find work, which they hear is plentiful there, picking fruit.  On the road some family members will die, some will desert, all will experience hunger, the resentment of locals, the harsh contempt of police & exploitation by growers.  Tom is forced to leave the family when he kills a strike breaker, but he pledges to preach the word of man for man and how the poor must band together to obtain their rights.  More disasters befall the family, including the loss of his sister's baby, and the novel closes with the Pieta like scene of her suckling a starving man.

The sincerity and heartfelt nature of Steinbeck's masterpiece is unquestionable, but 60 years later, we have to face the fact that he, like many intellectuals of the day, was profoundly wrong about where the poor's salvation lay.  In fact, the Depression ended when the huge industries were fired up to provide war material and, with little interruption, since then we have a seen an economy that is driven by the concerns of the upper and middle classes, but just as a rising tide lifts all boats, the poor have benefited from this progress.

Even more mistaken is his image of the noble poor.  As we have seen, even in our age of Welfare reform, the problem of the underclass is extremely intractable; some folks just won't work, even to better their own lives.  Steinbeck was deluded by the Depression,  a stark aberration in the long march of Capitalism, which made millions of people desperate, who would otherwise have been gainfully employed.

The result is a beautiful & moving, if overlong, artifact of it's time--which loses some of it's impact in retrospect.  Compare it for instance to his great novella  Of Mice and Men, a universal tale of friendship and heroism, or Winter of Our Discontent, an eerily prescient story of America's moral decline.  I personally would have preferred to see Of Mice and Men on the list.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A-)

  

Comments:

I think that you were wrong about your review as i have to do this for an assignment and everywhere else ive looked is totally different to your review!!!!!!!

Luv ya yours sincerly vj crutch

- Vj Crutch

- Nov-14-2005, 23:59

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Nadine:

Try this story:

http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/000883.html

- oj

- Dec-04-2003, 21:53

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I think that you are totally wrong on your review of the novel. Steinbeck went to California during the great depression and even was a farmer himself. He wasn't one of the poor that was kicked off of his land, but he did work with people that were for a few years. Everything that he used in his book was totally truthful. You should research him before you critize.

- Nadine

- Dec-04-2003, 21:25

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