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Grapes of Wrath Review

The Grapes of Wrath

Published: 1939
Pages: ~578
Completed: Yes
Enjoyed: No

Seriousness: Droll, but mostly serious
Genre: Literature
Difficulty: Some slightly awkward accents at times, emotionally heavy
Rating: M – some violence, adult themes

Recommend: If it had an ending, yes, but unfortunately no.

Up next … working my way, book by book, through the Harry Potter series.

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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Grapes of Wrath, Review

 

Ripening on the vine

What an odd book The Grapes of Wrath is.

Interesting family dynamics (even if there is some worrying old-fashioned gender relations), remarkably topical issues (more on this later), emotionally draining at times, yet it takes more than 400 pages before you find out the reason for the title, and the ending made me want to throw the book across the room.

Literally.

This was an unfamiliar experience for me. Sure, I’ve gotten annoyed at books before, but it’s been either that it’s not what I was expecting (in which case I give up on reading it), or the characters are behaving stupidly (in which case I’m usually compelled to continue to find out if it bites them in the posterior or not). Here, it was just the ending. It just felt like a non-ending, like the end of a chapter and the rest of the book has been left out.

To be fair, I’m sure that it probably has some deep symbolic significance, “triumph of the human spirit over adversity”, yadda yadda… Besides that, it would probably seem far more important to someone of the time (70 years ago) – controversial even, whereas today the reaction is more “Ooo…kay? That’s a bit wierd, but I’ll accept it.”

But anyway, on to the *ahem* burning issue. I found it rather eerie to be reading this and seeing the news about rioting in Britain, which seems to be of a similar stripe. And as was wisely said (by Russell Brand of all people!), it’s worth looking into the motivations for the chaos, as dismissing it glibly as “mindless” doesn’t address the underlying issues.

If you have a lot of people (like, say, farmers from Oklahoma), in a situation where they have very little power, money, or prospects, then they will feel resentful; unfairly treated; mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore. What they then do with those feelings is another matter, but if you sow and nurture the seeds of resentment you will harvest the grapes of wrath.

Please bear in mind that I am not condoning or supporting the riots, or even saying that they were inevitable. People can choose to express their frustrations in far-less destructive ways. But lets not punish the child for striking out and ignore the needling from the one who was struck.

Gosh. Getting awfully political-like there. Um… look, a convenient distraction! *flees*

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in General, Grapes of Wrath

 

Caught, subdued, and washed*

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.

Grrr.

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