Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Review : The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck 10*

This could be the best book ever written, it is certainly one of the most powerful and moving novels I have encountered. Steinbecks's novel about the Dust Bowl and the effects that big business farming and banking were having on small scale farmers is filled with slow burning simmering anger and blind hope in equal amounts.

The Joads, a family of sharecroppers, can no longer earn a living on the land in Oklahoma, partly due to the drought, and partly due to the changes in crop price structure brought about by the banks. They pin their hopes on the truth of a printed flyer which promises work in California, and loading their truck with all the possessions they can, they set out along Route 66 for the West.

When they arrive, after the death of the Grandfather, and after hearing tales told by other Okies that the handbills promises may be empty, they discover awful truth after awful truth. There are tiny amounts of work to be had, and conniving land owners use the abundance of inflowing labour as a mechanism to drive down wages. At almost every turn they experience the meanness of spirit of their fellow man and the near total lack of interest, or active hostility, from the authorities

Throughout everything, the Joads somehow manage to keep their family mostly together, and they are still in part hopeful that things will get better. There are flashes of anger beneath the surface though, and this sometimes breaks though in Ma's iron control of the family, Uncle John's sudden desire to get black out drunk, and the occasional threats of violence expressed towards authority expressed by Tom Joad.

Steinbeck's writing throughout is wonderful, he knew the newly poor people and how they lived, from their simple faith and doubts down to what they ate and wore, how they talked and thought and behaved and went about their daily lives. To Read 'The Grapes Of Wrath' is to become one of the Joads for 500 pages, to become poor and downtrodden and ill used, to experience indifference, prejudice and exploitation. It is a long road walked in somebody else's shoes, and it is wonderfully, beautifully, cruelly written.

68 of 1001.


  1. It's many years since I read this and I agree it is a heart-breaking book.

    I suppose the English equivalent would be Walter Greenwood's 'Love on the Dole' which for me is the definitive novel of the General Strike era in Northern England.

    Both books epitomise man's inhumanity toward his fellow man.

  2. I havn't read that one Juliana, thanks for the tip.

  3. Squirt7:58 am

    Can I borrow please bruv? xx