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138 of 153 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly THE Greatest American Novel, July 25, 2000
This review is from: The Grapes of Wrath (20th Century Classics) (Paperback)
I have never read a better novel written by an American than THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Steinbeck's deeply touching tale of displaced families and a nation rent by Depression will never cease to be relevant.
The Joads and thousands of others are driven out of Oklahoma by drought and the Depression. It is bad enough they lose their farms to homes and have to move. It is worse that the big business fruit growers in California print misleading flyers claiming to have far more well-paying jobs available than they ever intended to have. It is miserable when they get to California (where the people curse them as "Okies") and find out that as few as one man owns as much a million acres--much of it lying fallow in front of their eyes.
As difficult as the plight of the Joads and families like them, Steinbeck does not paint the Californians or their police as evil so much as scared into treachery and violence in order to protect their own. No one wants to starve and starvation after the dust bowl and thanks to the exploitative wages paid by the vineyard owners is a very real possibility. Nor does he canonize the migrants--the societies that grow up by the side of the road each night have their own laws and lawbreakers, stout hearts and slatterns--but does show them as civilized people who don't deserve being treated like animals. Many fearful Californians don't agree.
Steinbeck's character Tom Joad (whose ghost lives on in a Bruce Springsteen's song recently covered by Rage Against the Machine) is as important to American literature as Huckleberry Finn, Holden Caulfield and Jay Gatsby. Joad knows life offers no simple solutions, but he also knows that fair is fair. When a man's employers charge him for his work gear AND operate the stores where he must buy his food so that he often ends up OWING his employers more at the end of the week than his pitiful wages can cover, Tom Joad knows that's not just. He knows the land is fertile enough to feed everyone, so don't try giving him any speeches about "private property" and "supply and demand." If the test of a system and a society is how it treats it poorest members (especially in a crisis like the Depression), then the world the Joads live in fails miserably.
No less strong a character than her son Tom, Ma Joad embodies all the cliches about being a tower of strength without actually being a cliché herself. She and her family possess all the true grit and hearty spirit America prides itself on as a nation of pioneers, but by the 1930s the frontier has been bought up and the pioneers are in desperate straits.
This book is occasionally criticized for being too socialistic. This criticism is misguided; what THE GRAPES OF WRATH does is show how capitalism can and often does enrich the few while the many suffer. Steinbeck shows how breadbasket farmers were thrown off the land they had worked for generations so bankers in the East can make more profit. Can this happen today, even in a time of tremendous prosperity? Ask today's family farmers what agribusiness has done to them. THE GRAPES OF WRATH is no call to play the "Internationale," but it does starkly and intelligently raise questions about the meaning of equal opportunity and justice for all.
This is a book that should be required reading for Alan Greenspan, the editors of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, and triumphal capitalists everywhere who wince for their stock dividends when the unemployment rate goes down. Not to mention every single elected official in the United States. The subject matter is extremely heavy and sad, but Steinbeck's style is straightforward and easy (even with the various dialects he employs perfectly). THE GRAPES OF WRATH does what so very few great novels can: it will take a lot out of you, but leave you with much more than you had when you began.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 20, 2007 3:46:34 PM PDT
I'm trying to decide whether or not to make a project out of reading all Steinbeck's books. Do you recommend it?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 23, 2007 9:27:38 AM PDT
Why not? I'd recommend Cannery Row next. Not the great classic that this one is, but a lot less harrowing! If you want a work of comparable grandeur you'd have to look to the very best of Tolstoy, Dickens, George Eliot and other giants

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2009 9:17:10 PM PDT
Al T. says:
I can't tell if you've already read GoW. If not, I'd start with 'Of Mice and Men'. It's only about 100 pages, is generally representative of Steinbeck, and is just a fantastically woven little story. I've only read five of his novels/novellas; so I don't know if reading all is worth it. I'll just say that I'm glad I read those five, but I don't feel like I need to read more Steinbeck.

Posted on Nov 11, 2013 10:04:00 AM PST
Joseph hotto says:
Excellent Review

Posted on Apr 16, 2014 1:51:35 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 16, 2014 2:01:53 AM PDT
Steinbeck was close to the CPUSA and it is a searing indictment of capitalism. So what? Things were at the brink during the Depression and in my opinion they are again slowly headed in that direction. Income inequality is slowly grinding the 99% down. Ask someone who just quit Home Depot refusing to work another day getting $9 an hour and expected to train new hires who are hired in at $10 an hour and told to be so so thankful for it. HD needs a union .

I'm a retired teacher with a Ed M from Harvard. I know my political history.
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