Sunday, February 05, 2006

Book Review: The Grapes Of Wrath

John Steinbeck's classic American novel is a powerful and gripping saga, but for me it was more than a fascinating read, it's a commentary on my own children's heritage. Set during the Great Depression and economic hardships of the Dust Bowl, Steinbeck follows the struggles of the fictional Joad family as they travel Route 66 west to California looking for work and hoping for a better life. It was fascinating to follow the transformation from sharecropping farmers to migrant workers as each new hardship forces sociological changes. Interspersed throughout the story are chapters reflecting the grander scope, giving a better understanding that this struggle is more than one family and truly a national crisis.
My wife's grandmother was born in Arkansas, married at 16 and has traveled the grapevine often. It was exciting to read about places like Bakersfield where she still resides, and Oklahoma where aunts and uncles have returned. My father-in-law attended grade school in Weedpatch and I've seen the photos of when they lived at the government camp. In one, Grandma is wearing a borrowed dress outside the clapboard shack, ready to attend the Saturday night dance just as Steinbeck describes.
The book is filled with colloquial speech and can be difficult to read as well as quite a bit of vulgar language. There are several graphic scenes of violence which accentuate the depth of their struggle. It's easy to see why this book would have been banned and even burned. If any of this would prevent you from reading the book, may I recommend the movie starring Henry Fonda. It eliminates the rough language and gives a cleaner ending. However, I know the real story hasn't ended. It continues on today in the heritage of my own family, effecting our values, decisions, and relationships.