The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath is deep, giving a picture of the darker side of human nature & of man's greed, squashed hopes, despair as well as of their generosity, kindness & togetherness




It's hard to tell you how good this book actually is, especially when I tell you that it is a largely depressing novel!

It is such a thought provoking book, reflecting the American mid west during the Great Depression


Plot



Although I describe the Grapes of Wrath as profound, it tells the very simple story of the Joad Family's migration to California as a result of drought in Oaklahoma.



Sadly what greets them in California is not the American Dream. In fact the lack of work, poverty and living conditions are all probably worse than what they left behind in Oaklahoma.

The story is about their endless struggle to survive together as a family.

For a full summary of the story go to Grapes of Wrath Synopsis


Themes



Steinbeck intends his reader to think at a deeper level & frequently uses very ordinary situations to make us do so.


It's not surprising that the book caused alarm in America with its strong messages about the abuse of the distribution of wealth, land & power.

These messages are much more profound when they come out of the mouths of very ordinary people who see what they see in a very simplistic way & even more so when they are hungry, desperate & homeless as the Oakies are.

So, although the story is about a very poor family, the book highlights again & again the power of the comparatively few moneyed people over the poor masses. There are constant references to the power of the banks as they drive the people out of their homes & bulldoze their land. Eg page37+ .

And once in California, the migrators find it hard to understand how one man can own such huge tracts of land when so many have nothing & only want the chance to work to feed & make homes for their families. Capitalism at its worst!

Permeating the whole book is an awareness of man's greed & inhumanity to his fellow men This was shown so strongly at the hiring of the men at rock bottom prices. The bosses have all these people over a barrel. It made for very uncomfortable reading

"Grapes of Wrath" made me so angry but it is a book which, should be read. I found some of the conversations about being in prison of interest; it seems to me that there is frequently a very fine line between those who are on on the right side of the law & those who aren't, eg. some bankers? who else?

Family and Women


This novel emphasises the need of the family to stick together, to help each other out. There is great strength in the Joad family but they are not exclusive; they are happy to help others & take them in. There is genuine warmth & love. And in it women come into their own; mother comes into her own as she takes over & keeps them all together;

Pa sadly relinquishes his position as head of the family. The men are physically so strong but it is the women who are stoical, as they migrate. There is such sadness for them, none more so than when Grampa dies & they have to dig his grave far away from home; so moving.


Note also how God plays a big part in their lives; their lives being built on the Scriptures. One of the most moving bits of the novel is when Ma has to sort out the Box, deciding what to take & what to throw away.

It is certainly an emotional read from start to finish!

There's even humour though not much; eg. the incident when over Grace by the preacher,

"Granma-----rocked a little, back & forth, as she tried to catch hold of an ecstasy."


The two youngsters who eagerly await the birth of their baby, act as a contrast to what's happening around them, with their hopes & dreams. But, it's interesting that as they are forced to face their heartbreaking reality, by now a woman, she breast feeds the starving man.


Questions?



What did you learn about the great depression?

What aspects of The Great Depression shocked you most?



Did you enjoy Steinbeck's descriptive writing? The historic interludes?

Discuss the role of women in The Grapes of Wrath

Discuss the Role of Men in The Grapes of Wrath

How did you feel about the final scene in the Grapes of Wrath - Did it Shock you?


Like?



Our Book Club Loved this book and there was just so much to talk about at our discussion. It won Best Book Of The Year for us scoring 9.5/10.


The beautifully written style of the book is in a different league from most of the books we have read.

From the outset, as a reader, I was aware that I was in the company of an exceptional writer.

It is breathtaking in its minute detail, its atmosphere & characterisation. Steinbeck is a painter but with words.

On a massive canvas, he paints detailed pictures of the changing landscape & the harshness of the characters' lives in a savage environment, concentrating on the Joad family's "forced" migration to California.

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