Burn, “Grapes of Wrath”, Burn

An immediate and huge bestseller, the classic depicting poverty and the struggles of migrant workers was and often still is banned for obscenity and for the negative light in which the country was painted.
Novel by John Steinbeck, published in 1939. Set during the Great Depression, it traces the migration of an OklahomaDust Bowl family to California and their subsequent hardships as migrant farm workers. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940. The work did much to publicize the injustices of migrant labor. The narrative, interrupted by prose-poem interludes, chronicles the struggles of the Joad family’s life on a failing Oklahoma farm, their difficult journey to California, and their disillusionment once they arrive there and fall prey to a parasitic economic system. The insularity of the Joads–Ma’s obsession with family togetherness, son Tom’s self-centeredness, and daughter Rose of Sharon‘s materialism–ultimately gives way to a sense of universal community. — The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
The GOOD:
Possibly THE Greatest American Novel,July 25, 2000

By

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.

The BAD:

 Complete misery and no plot,September 29, 2006

First let me say I’m a Steinbeck fan. I love the majority of his work.
Also, I’m writing this review before I do research on this book. I have just finished reading it, so my opinion is fresh and mine only. It has not been influenced by what others think. I do plan on reading a great many summaries and opinions from great thinkers to try and find out why people generally think this is such a great book.
I like Steinbecks ability to demonstrate the human spirit in this book. What I do not like about this book is that it starts off with bad things happening to folks and it just goes downhill for these folks all the way, getting worse off the whole time, till the end when they are as bad off as they can get. People dying left & right, thrown in jail, everyone who already lives in California are mean, pregnant woman can’t get enough food, kids starve, no more work for three months, river floods, baby dies, etc. This is the most depressing book I think I’ve ever read. And where is the plot? There isn’t one. This book could have been written in one chapter, but John drags us through this misery over and over again, round and round. This book is a statement, that’s for sure. Maybe everyone thinks it’s so great because it is a great statement. I do believe that later in John’s life he regretted writing this book, or at least wished that he had written it differently. I have read online that this book is still banned in certain places of this country. That is wrong. I don’t feel that way. I don’t like the book, but I think anyone that wants to read it should be able to read it (I warn you it’s depressing and a waste of time!) It’s not the politics of this book that I don’t like. To me, there were no surprises. None. Not like “Of Mice And Men” or “East Of Eden” or other fine books I’ve read by Steinbeck. Still, if your a Steinbeck fan, you must read this book. If you’ve read his bio you must read “Grapes Of Wrath” to understand why Californians hated him so much. In a way I feel I have to apologize for not liking this book. One friend of mine who is an avid reader told me he didn’t really care for Steinbeck novels, but he loved “Grapes Of Wrath”. Go figure.

And The UGLY:

Absolutey Terrible,May 17, 2004

There have been many negative reviews for this book, but unfortunately most of them have been less than eloquent. Some of you who enjoyed this book seem to have noticed that. Well, I’m going to start this review off more than eloquently.

“The Grapes of Wrath” is an utterly pointless, sneering exercise in self-importance. It seems as though Steinbeck wrote this thinking, “This is the single greatest piece of literature ever created by man, and I am the most amazing human being to ever put pen to paper! All will bow to me!” I’m so sorry to point out how wrong you are, Mr. Steinbeck.

This is a story about the Joads. Fair enough. The Joads go to California in search of work because the big bad capitalists blew their house down. Fair enough. There’s a great deal of not-so-subtle Christ imagery with Reverend Casy. Not entirely necessary, but fair enough. The point to all of this is, “The Grapes of Wrath” isn’t so much a novel as a published mishmash of themes.

The book has no plot at all. It simply follows this family as they migrate across the country while Steinbeck tells us how fantastic Communism is, and we should all do it. The author stands high on his pedestal and preaches to his readers, while failing to actually tell an engaging story.

The characterization in the book is horrid. For some reason, critics find it a fabulous idea for Steinbeck to have created a group of one dimensional characters. I don’t know where they studied, but to me, that’s bad writing. Most of these cookie-cutter characters are hardly paid any mind during the book, and a good deal of them depart from the family by some means. The handful of characters Steinbeck does choose to focus on are in desperate need of deeper personalities. As it stands, I found it very difficult to actually care about what happened to any of them, and so I lost interest. This loss of interest makes it very difficult to read this book, because the reader must trudge through, at a snail’s pace, hundreds of pages about characters he could care less about.

I have a thought that the term “anti-climactic” was somehow spawned by this book. As if to prove to us that the novel does, indeed, go absolutely nowhere plotwise, Steinbeck ends the novel with Rose of Sharon offering her breastmilk to a starving full grown man. Oooh, racy, John Steinbeck, you must be a good author now! …Well, no. After devoting several hours of my life to this monster of a book, I expected to fell a trifle more satisfied by the conclusion. Hell, “rah-rah communism” is a better ending than what is currently there.

So, I really can’t find a reason to like this book, and a lot of that stems from the fact that I can’t bring myself to like or respect Steinbeck. Get off your high horse, already. Most people have stopped caring.

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~ by MorbidbookS, Extreme Fiction Publisher. on September 13, 2011.

2 Responses to “Burn, “Grapes of Wrath”, Burn”

  1. […] And the plethora of short novellas that Steinbeck wrote in his time are one of the mains reasons he has such an overwhelming bibliography. One of his best short works – and certainly his most well-known – was a little gem called Of Mice and Men, and once you read this, and the poignancy and power of thie small tale will fully reveal to you why it is that Steinbeck is considered to be such an important American writer. Mouse here for Related LinksBurn, “Grapes of Wrath”, Burn […]

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