Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck (highly recommended)

I just finished The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that has the patience to read it. The pacing was slow, which made it hard to read. Some authors may tell better stories BUT, I believe, no one tells a story better than Steinbeck! Paraphrasing a famous and well-known author, "When I read The Grapes of Wrath, it makes me want to stop writing; in comparison, my work is junk compared to Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is a book written by a brilliant author at the height of his powers."

The Grapes of Wrath follows the story of the Joad family during the Great Depression of America in the 1930s (NOTE: the Great Depression began in 1929). Every other chapter (although not strictly followed) describes vignettes of America in general during that time; these are usually the odd numbered chapters. The even numbered chapters follow Tom Joad and eventually the Joad family. Writing the novel in this way allowed Steinbeck to describe the general economic and social climate of America and, in the same novel, follow the story of one specific family, the Joads. In addition, the two writing styles between the odd and even chapters are juxtaposed; the general descriptions of America tend to be more poetically written.

This is the story with respect to the Joads. The Joads are poor. They are forced to leave their own land. They decided to move to California to make their fortune but California is not all that it is promised to be.

It is interesting to me that Steinbeck doesn't make the rich people the villians. The only villian described is the bank, a nameless and faceless institution whose only motive is to make more money.

There are a handful of interesting things about this book (including but not limited to the following):
1. Tom Joad has killed a man in his past BUT throughout the book, he is portrayed as a loyal and moral man.
2. Tom also seems not to be confused with his way in life. His life and his worldview is purposeful.
3. Jim Casy is a former preacher that has a strong sense of morality BUT he has rejected God because of his inability to stop fornicating with young women from his congregation.
4. Casy believes that staying together and supporting each other trumps any practical issues, i.e. everything will be alright as long as we stay together. This is juxtaposed to people in the Joad's story that simply abandon the family because it is too hard to stay.
5. The family seems to be led and held together by the mother.
6. Each character seems to represent a certain worldview or mentality.
7. Poor people seem to care for each other out of their poverty. This a very powerful image and theme that is littered throughout this book, especially in the final scene that brought tears to my eyes.
8. Hardships bring out strength (and weaknesses) in people that would not be shown otherwise, such as mama Joad staying with grandma knowing what she knew about grandmother's condition. (I know this is a vague description but you need to read the book to find out what this condition is.)
9. I found myself wondering if Steinbeck was a Christian or not. (I don't think he was.) His portrayal of Christianity was not favorable. Casy the preacher renounced God. The woman at the government camp was uber-self-righteous. The worldview that Tom Joad adopts, that our souls are only a piece of a very large soul, is essentially pantheism; I am god, you are god, everything is god.

This book is rich in themes. A PhD thesis could be written about this book alone.

I did think the pacing of the book was slow which made it hard to read.

Overall, I think the book was outstanding. The only reservation I had was the pacing. The storying telling was outstanding (of course, it's Steinbeck), the themes were brilliantly executed and, for me, it gave me a great appreciation for the thing that I have and a great appreciation for my job and income. I would highly recommend this to anyone. It is a hard book but it is a worthwhile read. Definitely.

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