The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

A heavy subject matter, and a very familiar story. It has no cultural or time restraints. We see re-enactments of The Grapes of Wrath everyday. “‘I’m learning one thing good,’ she said. ‘Learnin’ it all the time, ever’ day. If you’re in trouble or hurt or need – go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.'” Steinbeck successfully captures the horror of the Great Depression and the conflict between the powerful and the powerless. I can definitely see why it’s considered to be a landmark of American Literature.

The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joads family. The dust bowl has made farming unprofitable, so the bank forces the Joads to leave their farm. They decide to travel west, because money and work are being promised there. As we follow along on their journey, we see the hardships and oppression suffered by migrant laborers which are very common during the Great Depression.

The character that I remember the most is not Tom or Ma or any of the major characters in the book. It is a minor character named Noah Joad (which is probably a biblical reference to Noah and the Ark, since both Noahs have not been very well understood by other people). He is the older brother in the family and is seen as being strange and aloof in the book, because he does not share the major values and goals of the society. As the family reaches California, he finds something in the cool and clear river, something he can’t find in the society. He then decides to live by the river and catch fish for survival.

My interpretation of this is that he does not want to become the people who make money out of other people’s misfortune, like the cheating car dealers or Willy Feely. At the same time, after hearing about the starving people, he does not intend to be ranked as one of them either. His thinking is that even if all the poor people supported each other, the rich will still get richer, and the poor will still get poorer.

He can’t do anything about it and he can’t change the people, so he decides to go with what he believes in and live by the river, where a “Fella can’t starve”. Perhaps this takes just as much courage as characters like Jim Casy, who tries to organize a strike to prove his point. I mean, it takes a lot to even think about living by yourself without anyone supporting you.

Ever felt like walking your own path and letting the people talk, hoping that one day they might understand you? I think this is how Noah felt.

I really liked how the book ends. As I was reading the book I kept wondering how it will end. I figured it will probably “just end.” But Steinbeck is such a brilliant writer. He made my mouth go wide open in amazement and awe. The ending was beautiful.

I will definitely read this book again. If I read it after several years, I will probably see it differently than how I see it now.

What are some books that you will definitely read again in the future?

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10 responses to “The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

  1. I love books like this that have a serious message they want to get across to the reader, or something important relating to history and previous events. I read John Steinbeck’s book Of Mice And Men for my English Lit exam, and it’s sounds like this has the same themes: The Dust Bowl, having little money etc, and I really enjoyed that book.

    A book I will definitely read again is Anne Frank’s Diary. Not because it’s incredibly entertaining, but because I think it’s important to remind myself of the horrifying events Jews had to go through during WW2, and it helps me not to take anything I have for granted.

  2. I have stopped reading because I’ve been working a lot.. but I am ready to start back reading again and I think I may just try out this book The Grapes. It will go on my list to pick up this weekend

    • Hi! I stopped reading for a few days too. It turned out that I can’t not read because reading actually helped me a lot with discipline and being productive. ^_^ The Grapes of Wrath is a great book. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Glad you are interested in reading it 😀

  3. I’ll probably read all the books I’ve ever had to read for school. When you have to read them and study the author’s hidden intentions, it is not that enjoyable.

    • I kind of want to do that too. When I did “To Kill a Mockingbird” as the novel study part of my English course, my teachers would always give me assignments every two chapters or so and I eventually lost the feel of the book. I think a book is more enjoyable when you read it all at once instead of stopping every few chapters and analyzing it. I wonder if I would have liked the book if I read it for pleasure…

  4. I really want and need to read this book! If I had a copy, I would start it right now! Gotta go to the library… The Hiding Place is a book that I will definitely read again. It helped me learn some great lessons, but I think I could go read it again and get some totally different lessons out of it.

  5. Pingback: Seventy years after The Grapes of Wrath was published, its themes – corporate greed, joblessness – are back with a vengeance. Melvyn Bragg on John Steinbeck’s remarkable legacy | ikners.com

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