“Rich fellas come up an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people.”
There’s few authors, in fact human beings, that have had an impact comparable to that of John Steinbeck on myself.
It was in secondary school I was introduced to the world of Steinbeck through “Of Mice & Men”. It was taught at GCSE, and I became immersed. Coming from a journalistic background, his writing rather bluntly challenges stereotype and injustice, and really puts human behaviour under the microscope. Both the good and evil of mankind are celebrated and analysed. His language is powerful, and not afraid to directly grab a reader by the proverbial balls and demand their attention.
This skill set is arguably more present in “The Grapes of Wrath” than any other of his work. A shocking novel, that was actually banned from libraries and schools in 1930’s America.
The story depicts the tale of the Joad family, as they flee their dust bowl trapped land in the mid west of America, in search of a better life in California. Their journey along the infamous Route 66 is magnified brutally, along with thousands of others in the same predicament.
The journey highlights the clear divide between the left and right of American society during the Great Depression. The Joads throughout their journey are dealt with relentless obstacles, and are treated as nothing more than subhuman scum. The Joads have no inherent right to demand a better life, according to the attitudes of American society within this book.
The novel intesnely challenges the role played by huge businesses and banks throughout, and highlights the devastating impact their greed can have on the working classes. It explores the idea that the despite having absolutely nothing, the poor are the only ones who are willing to give. The tight-knit cocoon of dignity in which poverty-stricken families reside is really celebrated.
This concept is painted in the most disturbing fashion however. For example at one point, a struggling mother who has just miscarried, allows an older man who is on death’s door, to feed from her breast. Help thy neighbour taken to an extreme.
It’s imagery like this that led to “Grapes of Wrath” becoming a pillar of American literature, and why it’s now a fundamental part of the country’s education system. Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” is based solely on the novel, and lifts Steinbeck’s lines directly for its lyrics.
“The Grapes of Wrath” is an important story, that needs to be told. It shows us the darker side of human nature, and it’s consequences. It shows us the greater aspect of human nature, and its beauty at times of absolutely no hope, and despair.
Something the world needs reminding of, particularly in these darker days.