When I was 16 or 17, I readThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in just a few days. I could literally feel myself transported to the world he created, and I was profoundly touched by the end of the story.
I have often thought fondly of the book because over the years it has remained my all time favorite.
So, a few weeks ago, I decided to read the book again. Would it live up to my expectations? Would it be just as good as it was the first time I read it? Would it touch me as deeply?
I’m happy to say that the book felt like an old friend I hadn’t seen in years and years, but when we finally met again, it felt like no time had passed.
The only thing that I personally found frustrating is that my schedule is much fuller than it was twenty some years ago when I read the book. While I was previously able to give the book almost my undivided attention, this time it took me nearly four weeks to complete it, but the ending once again brought me to tears as it did so long ago.
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About The Grapes of Wrath
The The Grapes of Wrath follows a family, the Joads, from Oklahoma as they journey to California in search of fruit picking jobs. This is during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, so there is no work to be had in Oklahoma. They set out for California specifically because they’ve seen pamphlets asking for workers and advertising jobs.
While their harrowing journey to California easily takes up 1/3 of the book, the rest of the story is just as poignant. While the family starts out with fourteen members, by the end of the book, they’re down to just seven.
When they get to California, they find the state overrun with migrant workers just like themselves. The laws of supply and demand go into effect, as the farm owners had hoped. Desperate workers are willing to take ridiculously low wages to keep hunger at bay, and if workers do refuse the low wages, there are always others who will take the job for that low wage.
While the Joads seem to be stuck in a hopeless battle, just eeking out a living (and sometimes not even that), they maintain their dignity and their humanity, which gives the end of the book such a feeling of hope. They will survive.
My Thoughts on The Grapes of Wrath
When I reread it, I brought more knowledge to the book. At sixteen, I hadn’t traveled much. Now, when I read about the Joads’ journey across Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and California, I had been to most of the places they traveled through. I knew how difficult those places can be to travel across now, let alone 80 years ago in an old, beat up jalopy.
I also marveled now at the politics of the book. Many of the things that were thought and said to the “Oakies” seeking jobs are not much different than people think now about illegal immigrants and migrant workers. Same misconceptions, just a different era and a different group. I found that sad.
However, I loved the way the Joads and other people in their situation treated one another. I wish I could say people still treat each other in such a caring way, but I don’t think I can.
The Grapes of Wrath is a classic that won both a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest that you do.
5 out of 5 on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.
Money Beagle says
My 9th grade English class introduced us to Steinbeck. I think we read Pastures of Heaven, and I was hooked. Since then I’ve read a good deal of what he wrote, whether it was assigned (as other books were) or just because I really could appreciate how incredibly great his stories are. If you haven’t read some of his other books, check them out. You won’t be disappointed.
I haven’t read Pastures of Heaven. Hhhmm. That might be on my list next. I have read Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, Travels with Charley, East of Eden, and The Long Valley. I’d like to reread some of those and maybe some more Steinbeck that I haven’t read. I really appreciated how so much of the social commentary in The Grapes of Wrath was applicable today.