Book Review – The Grapes of Wrath

The first book of John Steinbeck’s that I read was “Travels with Charley”. I bought all the other books written by him right away, but didn’t get around to reading them. I picked up “The Grapes of Wrath” a week ago and its no wonder that he received the Nobel prize for literature.

This book pulls you in and transports you to the USA of 1939. You travel along with the Joad family from Oklahoma to California and learn all about the US culture of the time, the migrant workers plight and several life lessons !

The Grapes of Wrath

Probably, the migrant workers suffering during the current pandemic made this more real. If I had read it earlier in the pre-covid world, I may have still appreciated the writing but it may not have resonated as much as it did now. Context makes all the difference…

Some amazing excerpts from The Grapes of Wrath –

“‘The hell with it! There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing. And some of the things folks do is nice, and some ain’t nice, but that’s as far as any man got a right to say.”’ He paused and looked up from the palm of his hand, where he had laid down the words.” This is what the preacher-turned-regular guy Casy says to Tom Joad.

“How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past? No.” Beautiful statement and its so true. The past made us who we are, the places we lived in, the people we grew up with, even the trees and pets have contributed to who we are.

The following statement is probably incomprehensible for most of us who grew up in a world of tractors. But, the advent of tractors in the US meant the farm hands lost their livelihood.

“But this tractor does two things—it turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people are driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this.”

“Thus they changed their social life—changed as in the whole universe only man can change. They were not farm men any more, but migrant men.”

The modern man’s changing needs …..

“And while the Californians wanted many things, accumulation, social success, amusement, luxury, and a curious banking security, the new barbarians wanted only two things—land and food; and to them the two were one.

And whereas the wants of the Californians were nebulous and undefined, the wants of the Okies were beside the roads, lying there to be seen and coveted: the good fields with water to be dug for, the good green fields, earth to crumble experimentally in the hand, grass to smell, oaten stalks to chew until the sharp sweetness was in the throat.”

About the banks –

“The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.” Well, the banks aren’t very different now 🙂

Finally a summary of what happened then and what sadly continues to happen in the world today –

“And the smell of rot fills the country. Burn coffee for fuel in the ships. Burn corn to keep warm, it makes a hot fire. Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out. Slaughter the pigs and bury them, and let the putrescence drip down into the earth.

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit.

And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates—died of malnutrition—because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.

The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath.

In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

Its because of the above paragraphs that this book is a classic. This is happening to this day ! Do ask yourselves, why do so many Africans/Indians go hungry ? Next question is, Why do pigs and cows get fattened in the developed countries with grains ? Make the connection.

Please read this classic if you haven’t already. Worth the time and effort.

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