The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

grapesofwrath2Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
First line: To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.

Goodreads blurb: The novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they sought jobs, land, dignity and a future. When preparing to write the novel, Steinbeck wrote: “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects].” The book won Steinbeck a large following among the working class, perhaps due to the book’s sympathy to the workers’ movement and its accessible prose style.

First, I have to say that we did a really good job of picking some amazingly depressing books for our challenge this year. Bleak House, As I Lay Dying (which James Franco has made into a movie?!?!), and now this wallow in the misery of the Dust Bowl that is The Grapes of Wrath. Again, I found myself feeling less than crazy about the book we were reading. There were some good points, though, so I’ll start there.

~ I like historical fiction that brings a human face to a historical event, and this book did that. I learned a lot about what the Dust Bowl did to share-croppers and how the great migration into California didn’t solve things a bit. It also helped to explain the need for unions and labor rights at this point in history.

~ I liked the character of Mrs. Joad. She was a hard woman, made even harder by circumstances, but she was very determined to do whatever it took to ensure the survival of her family.

~ Steinbeck knows how to write character and setting – I felt I knew the people and saw the world through their eyes as I read.

Now, for the things I didn’t like.

~ The alternating chapters. I understand that Steinbeck was using the chapters that didn’t refer to the Joads as a way to demonstrate what was going on in the country at the time, but I think their story did a good enough job showing that without all the exposition. He had a whole chapter on a tortoise crossing a road just to indicate how dry things were! Those chapters that weren’t about the Joads made the book drag for me.

~ The hopelessness. This book went from bleak to bleaker, from dark and depressing to even more dark and depressing, without a ray of hope! I felt completely mired in hopelessness when I closed the last page.

~ The ending. Or should I say the “non-ending?” He left things in a very weird place, and I guess we are left to assume that things only get worse for the Joads until they all die of starvation. What was your take on that strange ending?

If you write your own post on The Grapes of Wrath, please add the link to the Mr. Linky. If not, please chime in on the discussion in the comments section.

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12 Responses to The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

  1. bermudaonion(Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I read this in high school and don’t remember my specific feelings but do remember that I didn’t care for the book all that much.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kathy – I liked Of Mice and Men and Travels With Charley, but this one just wasn’t my cup of tea.

  2. Jeane says:

    I had to read it in high school too, and it was one of those books I fell in love with, even though most of my classmates seemed to hate it. I was wowed by the descriptions and anxious about the plight of the family, and even the non-narrative chapters drew me in with how it enabled me to picture the landscape. I’ve read it a few times since then, and it never pales with the repeat visit.

    The ending is really strange, and I can understand why it is a total negative for lots of people. It doesn’t feel like closure, but some tiny bit of hope and you don’t even know how that’s going to work out. Plus, talk about unusual verging on inappropriate? Hm.

  3. irene says:

    I’ve never read this one, nor any of the others you so wisely chose, my kids however did and during discussion I assumed I’d feel like you did. They were must reads for my guys in high school, what a way to turn kids off reading. Thanks for your honesty.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Irene – yes, I think forcing kids to read this in high school could put them off reading for a good long while.

  4. stacybuckeye says:

    The movie was powerful, but very dark. Don’t think I could handle the book!

  5. Susan says:

    I remember reading this as a teenager and liking it a lot. But I need to reread it and see if it captures me now.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Susan – I’d be interested to hear if you liked it as much as you did then.

  6. Beth F
    Twitter: BethFishReads

    I read this so many years ago I didn’t remember the structure of the novel. I do know that after reading this, I immediately sought out other Steinbeck novels.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Candace – it’s always interesting to me how the same book can cause such different reactions in readers. Humans are so unique!