The Grapes of Wrath is the foremost novel of depression era America. It follows a family who, having had their farm foreclosed by the bank, set out to California, having been convinced that there are truly wonderful opportunities there.
I started reading this after my terminal rereading of The Sun Also Rises, and so the stylistic differences were the most stark contrast between the two books. I have a hard time articulating the stylistic differences, but something about this seemed much more engaging. For my money, Steinbeck is clearly the better writer. I liked sitting down to this, excepting some of the in between chapters. Steinbeck wrote this in long and short chapters, where the long ones follow the Joads’ and the other gives us some other background details. Some of the details are bizarre, such as the third chapter which follows a turtle crossing a road, while others are more interesting, such as the ones that go into some background of a shady used car dealer. If there is a criticism to Steinbeck’s style, is that he seems to be trying too hard to be poetic. The last scenes of the book really hammer this home, and I did kind of feel like I was being assaulted with the point of the story.
It isn’t all great. The Joads really felt… well, for lack of a better word, stupid. You can’t even call what happens to them foreshadowing. They were told in detail how their journey would go wrong, and one wonders how it they could be so naive as to expect things in California to have gone any better. Someone would reply that this is meant to show their desperation, and shows how a family that is in the process of losing everything makes poor and desperate choices. But going to where everyone else had failed and expecting different results seems foolish.
Then again, what the fuck would I have done in their place? It is hard to say.
This is meant to be a classic of American literature. I am truly unsure if I see how that fits. This is a skepticism I have with a lot of novels that take up the moniker, mostly because I think it is a garbage moniker. But if perenniality is any metric of these things, then the shoe absolutely fits. Sure, the Great depression is over, but from my understanding it seems to have been replaced by the immortal intermittent recession. The flavors all seem to be the same, and we are having very similar discussion to this day about living wages and how we should be treating workers. We are also today having conversations about people losing their homes over things that really are not their fault. American history seems to be framed in worker and civil rights, and it is massively disheartening to see that despite having a good hundred years of this discourse, we haven’t made in progress worth being proud of. If this book is a classic, America should be ashamed of itself.
I read this novel out of obligation for my job. You are going to get a lot of these in the coming months, so be warned. Reading by obligation is not anyone’s idea of fun, so that may affect the quality of these posts.