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?