The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Paperback- $13.37

Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation, "The Grapes of Wrath" is also ...

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  "A story of strength and adversity" by doloresvoorhees2000 (see profile) 11/30/06

An inspiration.

  "A genuine classic" by peteharris2017 (see profile) 05/26/08

If the test of a classic is a work of fiction which retains its relevance with the passage of time, Grapes of Wrath is nailed on.

In 1930s America, Tom Joad, newly released from jail for killing in self defence, returns to the family farm to find it empty. He finds out from two acquaintances that they have been driven out of their tenant farm by owners seeking to employ industrial farming methods. They are waiting for him at his uncle's farm, preparing to set out on the long journey from dust bowl Oklahoma, to the seemingly promised land of California. They have been attracted by handbills promising easy work and a prosperous life.

On the journey west along route 66 they meet up with the mass of people driven by similar circumstances and desires. They are faced with unscrupulous salesmen, suspicious locals, and above all family tragedy.

On the journey they hear stories, confirmed when they arrive, that California is not the golden opportunity it seems. The migrant workers are despised by the residents, exploited by landowners, and forced to live in squalid shanty towns. There are moments of hope, the family getting a place on a government run camp with decent facilities, but generally it is a tale of sadness and bitter poverty. Towards the end, the family take up residence in an abandoned boxcar and it feels like a step up.

Eventually Tom is on the run and the family are washed out of the box car.

All in all it sounds like unremitting misery, but it isn't. The indomitable spirit of the Joad family gives a hope that is never fully crushed, and even at its most desperate at the end, there is a moment of enlivening human kindness.

The structure of the book is interesting with two strands interweaving. There is the specific story of the Joads and their very personal struggle, but wrapped around this are chapters describing the general conditions of the migrant workers. This really works, given context to the specific story, and humanity to the general.

Also, I tend to prefer novels with a clean tidy ending, which this book doesn't have. But in this case it is absolutely right, the uncertainty reflecting the uncertainty of the Joads' life.

What makes the Grapes of Wrath truly great is the fact that the key themes remain true. What it says about the interaction of wealth and poverty, about consumerism, and about xenophobia remains true and relevant. In particular the descriptions of the reactions of the Californians to the newcomers could have been written today about migrant workers coming to Britain. Daily Mail leader writers should read this book and hang their heads in shame.

This makes the book sound highly political. It both is and isn't. Clearly it is an extremely angry polemic regarding the state and exploitation of migrant workers. It also tangentially argues for some form of community based collectivism. On the other hand it is not driven by any political theory, specifically it is not the Marxist treatise it has been accused of being. It is driven by concern for humanity and the need to right a wrong, not by any perceived solution.

Finally the book contains some stunningly beautiful writing. The descriptions of the Oklahoma Countryside, of the smells and sounds of the journey and of the characters and their relationships are top notch.

In summary, this is a genuine classic. It is not an easy or comfortable read. It is tough. I can however wholeheartedly recommend it.

  "Trying to Rise Above Adversity" by KarenC (see profile) 01/08/10

Very few authors can commit to paper such graphic descriptions of the human condition and arouse such pathos in the reader as John Steinbeck. When you are finished with the novel, you think you have lived the travails of The Joads. This is definitely a book to be read and discussed at this point in our American history with so many families jobless and displaced.

  "Grapes of Wrath" by jodene (see profile) 06/04/10

Although reading about the challenges of the Joad family during the depression was difficult at times, I was really glad a member chose this book for us to read. It is very well written and provided us with some excellent discussion topics.

  "Grapes of Wrath" by TVidal (see profile) 06/04/10

I have no idea why I had never read this book. I found it a bit disturbing and was always looking for a "happy" ending and of course, there wasn't any - which is the point.

  "Excellent choice for book group..." by tamarad (see profile) 10/27/10

  "grapes of wrath" by susanj (see profile) 10/27/10

  "The Grapes of Wrath" by ilucas (see profile) 09/22/11

  "Make do, accept, survive" by brightpoweruk (see profile) 04/09/12

This classic work, written in 1939, depicts a familiar tale of tragic and shocking events at that time. Greedy, heartless property owners oust tenants from their homes with promises of a fruitful, happy life far away.
These people were used to relentless hardships and were already down-trodden, having fallen on hard times before due to droughts, flooding and ‘acts of God’. They had managed before to pick themselves back up and stand to fight them again. However, there was no winning this time, as the poorest of tenant farmers they were left defenceless against deception and betrayal inflicted, without restriction, through the power of money.
This story is depicted with methodically slow descriptions of increasingly depressing circumstances that were beyond these people’s control. The plight of similar communities within supposedly ‘civilised’ society and the many thousands who migrated are seen here through the eyes of the Joad family from Oklahoma. We learn much about Ma, Pa, Tom and Casy and share their helpless frustration and ineffectual acts of desperation. The recurring theme is that people will make do, accept and survive.
Ma Joad develops throughout the narrative as a strong matriarchal character who keeps the family together, fed and alive. She advocates selflessness, dignity and principle. In contrast, Pa Joad, who was a strong person, is worn down through their misadventures. He loses his spirit on their journey and retires into the background leaving his wife little choice, but to take the leadership role.
The book starts just after their son, Tom has been released from jail for murder. We experience his traumatic return, with the insightful Casy (a former preacher) to a derelict, empty wasteland that was once the family farm.
Our group found this a ‘powerful read’ that was frustrating and hard-going at times like the trials endured by the families, particularly in the first 150 pages. After that, the regional accent becomes familiar and the style of writing intrigues rather than frustrates. The relentless repetition might be off putting for the less determined reader. Some of us who had encountered ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ decades ago still found it very interesting and absorbing. It was agreed that some effort is needed to continue reading and not everyone in the group managed to finish the book.

Our average mark was 6.5 out of 10.

  "Not sure why this is a classic" by Mrs.Nelson (see profile) 06/25/12

I found this painful to read.

  "Great American Novel" by FTessa (see profile) 06/04/13

When we first meet Tom Joad he has been walking for miles in his new shoes and clothes that don’t quite fit. Tom has been released on parole and is headed to his family’s home – they sharecrop 40 acres. But the family is no longer there and their home has been pushed off its foundation by a tractor. He finally finds them at his Uncle John’s place … about to pack-up and head for California. This is the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and there is no living to be made if they stay put. The Joads – Granma, Grampa, Uncle John, Ma, Pa, Noah, Tom, Al, Rose of Sharon, Ruthie and Winfield - along with Rose’s husband, Connie, and their former preacher Jim Casy all set out together towards the promised land.

Steinbeck tells the story of the Great Depression by alternating chapters that focus on the Joad’s journey across America with chapters that are best described as essays chronicling the changing face of the country and the forces that contributed to those changes. In these essays the very landscape becomes a character, as does the economy. The fear, worry, weariness, despair, and outrage are palpable.

I had expected – and got – most of the story to come from Tom’s actions and interactions. However, as the novel drew to a close I came to realize that the central figure here is really Ma. Regardless of what happens, always there is Ma, standing firm in her convictions, leading her family. I should not have been surprised; this is how Steinbeck introduces Ma:
Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. … She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.” (pg 74, Steinbeck Centennial Edition, Penguin Books)

This work affected me deeply. I could not help but think about my family’s history during this time frame. From their little Texas town on the Rio Grande, my grandfather took my uncles and my father, along with a few other men up to Montana each year to sheer sheep. Other uncles, aunts and cousins traveled to the orchards of the upper Midwest – Wisconsin and Michigan – picking cherries or apples. Still others made their way to California where they worked the fields in the Salinas valley. How I wish my father was still alive so I could talk to him about this book and how his experiences paralleled the story. But I have a feeling he would shrug and say something like, “You do what you have to do.” Then he would probably tell me a funny or endearing story of some family episode and we would be smiling at the warm memories.

Dylan Baker does a very good job of narrating the audio version. He has a wide repertoire of voices to use for the large cast of characters, though he was definitely channeling the young Henry Fonda for Tom Joad’s voice.

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  "The Grapes of Wrath" by Susanmoore (see profile) 10/29/15

A true classic. This beautifully written book transports you to another time and place. The power of the language makes much contemporary fiction pale in comparison.

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