Monday, June 24, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I was given a used paperback copy by a coworker.

My review:

An "epic novel of the Great Depression," The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family and the thousands of families like them. After losing their Oklahoma farm in the Dust Bowl, the Joads strike out West, following the promise of work harvesting in the lush fields and orchards of California.

Steinbeck's writing is brilliant-- absolutely brilliant. His command of language is amazing and his descriptions will put the reader in the truck, in the dusty field, in the leaky tent, like almost no other author's work can manage to do. The characters are believable and lifelike, and his understanding of human psychology and how families live and work together is deep.

Steinbeck's message is clear: Capitalism has failed these thousands of hard-working, honest people, and the "reds" who are brutalized by the police are clearly his heroes.

Stars: 2

Objective stars: 4.5

My low rating is because I really didn't enjoy reading Grapes very much, due to the depressing nature of the story. I deliberately waited to read this novel until the middle of summer, when the long days, hot weather, and more relaxed schedule make me resilient to discouragement. It is not a book I could have endured in February.

Of course, many of these events actually happened. People did starve to death. Children were malnourished. Families lost the land that they had cultivated for generations. Ignoring these facts of history is not the answer... But it doesn't make for "enjoyable" reading for me, either.

Also, while Steinbeck makes a case for his position, he fails to acknowledge that these thousands of honest, hard-working, self-policing people were they way they were because they had been raised in environments where hard work would be rewarded and laziness would not. The world of this book is a sickening breakdown of that system, but his salt-of-the-earth people had always had a strong incentive to work and they carried that attitude into their current circumstances. His communist utopia would only be possible if it were peopled by citizens who had been raised outside of it.

I recommend also reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged as a counterbalance.

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