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The Grapes of Wrath Paperback – March 28, 2006
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“Steinbeck is a poet. . . . Everything is real, everything perfect.”
—Upton Sinclair, Common Sense
“I think, and with earnest and honest consideration . . . that The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest American novel I have ever read."
“It seems to me as great a book as has yet come out of America.”
“I didn’t understand at the time — no one could have — that [The Grapes of Wrath] was not just a historical document but also a document about our current world with its depiction of drought and its effects (…) California, where the Joads went, is no longer the reliably verdant and green paradise they found; it’s now coming out of a five-year drought of its own (…) The other point that Steinbeck makes well, is that when we have huge, natural changes like these, the people who pay the largest price are the people most vulnerable and closest to the bottom (…) None of them did anything much to cause the problem, and yet they are its early victims (…) Steinbeck was trying to do something more than just simply tell a story. He’s a remarkable writer, and this is his masterpiece.”
— Bill McKibben, environmentalist
About the Author
John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).
After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.
Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942).Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright(1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.
The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961),Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata!(1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures.
Robert DeMott, editor, is the Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor at Ohio State University and author of Steinbeck's Typewriter, an award-winning book of critical essays.
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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.
Now onto a few words about this exceptional novel. Since John Steinbeck always wrote books re: the Great Depression, he had an ability to understand their fear on a daily basis. If Steinbeck were alive today, his novels would probably be very close to how they were over 75 years ago.
His books, especially ‘Grapes of Wrath’ dealt with racism, extreme poverty, family problems not far from the ones today. This novel was the perfect example.
The descriptive words he used in explaining their hurt, their living environment , lack of housing, etc. was spot on. I closed my eyes listening & even sometimes reading because I wanted to be there, to try and understand what the Depression years were really like..they were not ‘The Walton’s’! This was real..not knowing what tomorrow would bring for themselves or their family.
I’m so glad I decided to read and listen again...every single person must read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and realize at one time in the 20th Century individuals were living worse than dogs & cats...and unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t sound too far from reality today.
I’ve been honored to read a masterpiece!
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.
There is a sub-plot of this novel, a message, cautiously developed by Steinbeck, which is a call to arms for organized labor, the “reds”, inspirationally distilled in Tom Joad’s final monologue.
The Grapes of Wrath is a powerful classic, well worth reading, but difficult to digest (particularly the last third), and, therefore, best consumed over an extended period.