Caught, subdued, and washed*

07 Aug

The travails of the Joad family continue in The Grapes of Wrath. They’ve eventually made it to Canaan California, and – sure enough – it’s not all milk and honey**. Besides which, the family that arrived isn’t the same as the one that left. But then why would they be – in part this book is about a journey, and a journey isn’t interesting if you emerge from the other end the same as you went in***.

(I’d better stop adding footnotes before someone at wordpress sends me a nasty email about using up all their asterisks.)

I’ve decided that the book is not really what I would call enjoyable. Well-written, yes. Engaging, yes. Highly-interested-in-finding-out-what-happens-to-the-family, yes. Have-to-restrain-yourself-from-talking-like-the-characters, yes****. But it’s still very deep and heavy and somewhat on the depressing side if you empathise at all with the characters.

It’s the 1930’s. There’s a major drought in the mid-west. Plus there’s the small matter of something called the Great Depression. This leaves the work situation eerily familiar to that of today’s: more people wanting work than jobs available, leading to poor working conditions (“You don’t like it? I’m sure the next guy in the door would do it, and for less money!”). It raises all my everything-that’s-wrong-with-the-western-economic-system hackles (which I’ll try not to get into too much of a rant about), starting from one of the most basic principles: supply and demand.

Now, whatever other issues there are with this principle, it negates one important concept: intrinsic value. A sandwich has intrinsic value as nourishment. An economist might say that hungry people in another town are prepared to pay more, so prices will rise. Common sense might say don’t do your supermarket shopping before dinner (an acknowledgement that you are not behaving rationally). If we remembered the intrinsic value of things, and not just their potential price, we might not push milk prices up (because people overseas want to make plastic), thus forcing poorer families to have coca-cola on their cornflakes because it’s cheaper.


Okay, rant over.

On a lighter note, it’s amusing the way various characters will suddenly come out with a profound thought of the author’s, whether it fits with the current conversational topic or not.

* From a delightful line about the camp the family are staying in: “About mid-afternoon child bathing began, and as each child was caught, subdued, and washed, the noise on the playground gradually subsided.”

** Or oranges and grapes. Or sunshine and lollipops. Take your pick.

*** Despite the implication of my awkward metaphor, not all journeys are through tubes.

**** Or maybe that’s just me.

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Posted by on August 7, 2011 in Grapes of Wrath


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