Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Genre: Historical fiction
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.