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The Grapes of Wrath Paperback – March 28, 2006
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When The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, America, still recovering from the Great Depression, came face to face with itself in a startling, lyrical way. John Steinbeck gathered the country's recent shames and devastations--the Hoovervilles, the desperate, dirty children, the dissolution of kin, the oppressive labor conditions--in the Joad family. Then he set them down on a westward-running road, local dialect and all, for the world to acknowledge. For this marvel of observation and perception, he won the Pulitzer in 1940.
The prize must have come, at least in part, because alongside the poverty and dispossession, Steinbeck chronicled the Joads' refusal, even inability, to let go of their faltering but unmistakable hold on human dignity. Witnessing their degeneration from Oklahoma farmers to a diminished band of migrant workers is nothing short of crushing. The Joads lose family members to death and cowardice as they go, and are challenged by everything from weather to the authorities to the California locals themselves. As Tom Joad puts it: "They're a-workin' away at our spirits. They're a tryin' to make us cringe an' crawl like a whipped bitch. They tryin' to break us. Why, Jesus Christ, Ma, they comes a time when the on'y way a fella can keep his decency is by takin' a sock at a cop. They're workin' on our decency."
The point, though, is that decency remains intact, if somewhat battle-scarred, and this, as much as the depression and the plight of the "Okies," is a part of American history. When the California of their dreams proves to be less than edenic, Ma tells Tom: "You got to have patience. Why, Tom--us people will go on livin' when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people--we go on." It's almost as if she's talking about the very novel she inhabits, for Steinbeck's characters, more than most literary creations, do go on. They continue, now as much as ever, to illuminate and humanize an era for generations of readers who, thankfully, have no experiential point of reference for understanding the depression. The book's final, haunting image of Rose of Sharon--Rosasharn, as they call her--the eldest Joad daughter, forcing the milk intended for her stillborn baby onto a starving stranger, is a lesson on the grandest scale. "'You got to,'" she says, simply. And so do we all. --Melanie Rehak --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
Journey with the Joads for 21 hours in this first unabridged version of Steinbeck's classic. Controversial, even shocking, when it was written, the work continues to be so even today. The keen listener can hear why, because it poses fundamental questions about justice, the ownership and stewardship of the land, the role of government, power, and the very foundations of capitalist society. As history, this brings the Dust Bowl years to life in a most memorable way. Steinbeck (Travels with Charley, Audio Reviews, LJ 11/15/94) is a master storyteller and manages to engage the listener's sympathy with this epic story. Reader Dylan Baker, who gives each character a distinctive voice, draws the listener in. His female characters, especially the minor ones and Rose of Sharon, don't seem as authentic as his wonderful evocation of the fictional Tom, Ma, and Pa. But his voice is easy to listen to, and he is faithful to the characters' backgrounds and the plains region. The music that ends each individual tape is perfect for the story. This program is a well-produced, affordable, and worthwhile addition for any library with a serious audiobook collection.?Nancy Paul, Brandon P.L., WI
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
The Grapes of Wrath is so completely, so guturally human that it's practically impossible not to become engrossed in the life stories of the main characters. Some have complained that the characters are flat, that there is little growth. I find this only partially true. There is much to read between the lines. One who reads closely can find much growth in the characters of Ma Joad, Rose of Sharon, Tom, and even Al. Then there is the former preacher, Casy, whose growth occurred before the Joads' story even began -- but Steinbeck offers glimpses of that growth in his stories to the Joads.
This careful examination of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the effects of corporatism and the ensuing expansion of poverty is insightful and heart-rending. Migrant farmers find themselves picking fruit and vegetables to sell for mere pennies a day, meanwhile they are unable to even feed their own families. They watch as corporate farms burn and destroy fruit and vegetables to keep the prices high and prevent the starving from stealing the "extra." They see acre upon acre of land go unused, but they cannot even plant a few carrots because it is owned by the banks and the migrants are charged with trespassing. The "Okies," as they are called, are treated worse than animals. Families break apart and the old, sick, or very young die of malnutrition and sickness. Meanwhile, the corporate farms and banks continue to put small farms out of business and scheme to keep prices high and wages low. The stark contrast can be seen in a corporate farm owner, decked out in gold chains, wryly offering work to the desperate Joads in the midst of a strike.
I have heard it said that it is only in recent years that people are crying "class warfare." The Grapes of Wrath is a poignant example of class warfare before the term was even coined. This book is a time capsule of times passed -- and history will repeat itself if we don't learn from the lesson Steinbeck has to teach.
The first quarter of the novel tells of young Tom Joad's homecoming after several years in prison for killing a man in a drunken brawl. Contact with his family has been minimal over the years, and he looks forward to seeing his parents, grandparents, and siblings again - but the house is empty, obviously abandoned, like so many others in this land where a combination of drought and poor agricultural techniques has resulted in failure and foreclosure on countless family farms. Fortunately, Tom learns from a neighbor that his family has gone over to his uncle's place, and he arrives there just in time to join them on their way to California, where they've been told there's plenty of work in the state's lush Central Valley.
The second quarter of the novel is the story of the Joads' arduous journey west on Route 66, a trip distinguished by breakdowns, death, and intimations by those who have been there that California may be something less than the paradise they've been led to imagine. The final half of the novel follows the Joads after they arrive in California, only to discover that it's possible to starve even in a land of plenty as too many would-be workers are forced to compete for available jobs by accepting wages barely sufficient to buy enough food from one day to the next. The novel ends with one of the most stunning and affecting scenes you'll ever read, and although nothing at all is resolved, the story feels complete.
The structure of the novel underscores Steinbeck's creation of the Joads as the human face of a social crisis. Long chapters that advance the plot alternate with short chapters in which the Joads are never mentioned, in which Steinbeck's richly poetic prose establish the physical and moral setting of his work: the conditions leading to the Dust Bowl, the loss of a way of life, the journey to a new beginning, and the disillusionment and growing anger of the migrants - all on a massive scale. These short, poignant chapters are as beautiful, captivating, and necessary as the story chapters, as they provide context and grant a kind of holy universality to the Joads' experiences.
Steinbeck's writing is raw, earthy, and viscerally powerful. This is realism at its finest: full of small, telling details, and at times casually vulgar, not for shock value but because life itself is casually vulgar. I was about 13 the first time I read this novel, and the blunt honesty of the writing was a bit much for my somewhat sheltered mind; I remember feeling uncomfortable when an old man reached into his pants and "contentedly scratched under the testicles," as that wasn't a word I was used to seeing in print, at least outside of biology texts. I loved the background chapters but found the Joad chapters distasteful for the first hundred pages or so, when I finally allowed the vivid immediacy of Steinbeck's style to make the characters real for me. As an adult, I have no such difficulties and am able to appreciate the masterful style and rich characterizations immediately. This is a mature novel, about people too crassly human to elicit our pity, but too warmly human not to elicit our compassion.
I must admit that as a native Californian, I feel a special connection with this novel. For most of my life I lived just a few blocks away from the old Route 66 (although farther west than the point where the Joads left it to go north). Several of my husband's children live in the Central Valley, around places Steinbeck mentions by name. However, Steinbeck's skill is such that even if you've never been there, you'll close this novel feeling as though you had. This is a novel every American should read - indeed, everyone interested in what it means to be human in trying times. These days more than ever we need this book, we need this reminder of the values of proud self-sufficiency and fierce decency, for it is when we stop pulling, and pulling together, that we lose our way.
It can be really slow at times, but be patient and try hard to FEEL this book. Picture the struggle, the desperation, the hunger. Find yourself what it would be like making that trek with the Joad's across country, then among the camps. It is so powerful and the ending will leave you feeling true pain and disappointment (not in the book, but in the very American experience many people had... and still have...).
Too unfortunate that HS AP & Lit101 students couldn't have this well presented information a couple decades ago, when we were forced to read the book & regurgitate highfalutin claptrap.