November 12, 2008

Grapes of Wrath

I finished The Grapes of Wrath last night. It was a book club choice suggested by me. I had read the book 10 or 15 years ago, and often said it was my favorite book when someone asked. Of course tastes change and memories get fuzzy over the years, so I was excited to read it again. I also thought it would be topical to read a book about the Great Depression as we fall further into recession.

The story is about the Joad family. After several years of bad crops in the dustbowl of Oklahoma, they along with most every family lost their farm to the bank and were forced out of their homes. With fliers heralding great farming jobs in California, they head west to the promise of a new start. Their journey is difficult, but they come to find out that their suffering was only beginning.

The fliers sent out offering 800 jobs were sent to tens and hundreds of thousands of people. The Joads get hints of this on their drive to California, but it doesn't make any sense to them. Why get a hundred thousand folks to move across the country for only 800 jobs? They, and the reader, come to find that the land owners were creating a labor market so hungry and desperate that they would work for less than sustenance.

The story deals with topics of economy, history, class conflict, human nature, and the coming together and tearing apart of society. We learn about life in Hoovervilles around the state, and also about how people come together in times of crisis. Even when they had little or nothing to offer, and when their own survival was in doubt, folks reached out to each other to lend a hand.

The writing is wonderful, poetic at times. Steinbeck alternates chapters covering the Joads journey with short chapters describing the events from a pulled back perspective. You come to understand the events and motivations of the time by following this family as they try to survive the Great Depression. There are glimmers of hope and shots of redemption, but no neat and happy ending. These were difficult times and you find the strength of the human spirit in their struggle.

The novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature. It becomes once again one of my favorite novels. Two thumbs up and five stars.


Anonymous said...

Cool! I needed the Cliff notes! thanks!

jennifer said...

Hm. Maybe I should give it another try. I read it in high school and again after college and didn't like it at all. Might be interesting to get a new perspective, like you did, reading it during our current economic times. (I also have always had trouble reading books where the dialogue is hard to wade through since the author writes the characters' accents and different pronounciations. I recall that was a stumbling point for me in getting through GofW too!)