Maybe we can start again, in the new rich land – in California, where the fruit grows. We’ll start over.Wow. Novels like Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, are one of the reasons that I have set out to read the Pulitzer Prize winners. The novel is haunting and beautiful, tugging at the heart strings. It won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was made into a film the same year.
But you can’t start. Only a baby can start. You and me – why, we’re all that’s been. The anger of the moment, the thousand pictures, that’s us.
Briefly, the story is set in the Depression, around the time of the Dust Bowl. Tom Joad returns home from prison after serving four years for killing a man. He meets Casy, who has given up his life as a preacher. Joad finds his family home in Oklahoma has been destroyed by the bank, which has foreclosed on the land and is using tractors to force a few last crops of cotton before the soil loses its life. Inspired by hand bills showing an idyllic scene, the Joad family sell most of their possessions and start off for California. As they make their way by truck, they soon find that thousands of other families are doing the same thing. Once in California, they become migrant workers, despised and feared by the wealthy land owners.
On one level, the novel is depressing as all hell. Steinbeck does an excellent job of conveying the powerlessness of the families. On the other hand, this is a magnificent novel. Steinbeck conveys the strength of the families and the migrant communities. He does a wonderful job comparing the warmth of original farmers and the disassociation of the banks and the wealthy land owners. This is also a timeless novel; I saw parallels between what the people were experiencing then and what many people have experienced in the latest recession. Once again, this is a classic that even adults out of school can appreciate and savor.