2014 is the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck’s novel is indeed worthy of the “Great American Novel” designation; it is also, as are most of his books, a story about California. It stills sells an amazing number of copies each year. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 in spite of the fact that it was not well received by many, especially in California.
The novel revealed not only the hardships, but the prejudices and extreme injustices to the “Okies” as the migrants from Oklahoma Dust Bowl were called. The Grapes of Wrath was banned in some California libraries and counties and burned in Salinas, where the author was from. The sheriff asked Steinbeck if he owned a pistol.
“No,” Steinbeck said.
The sheriff replied, “Get one.”
The themes are family struggles, poverty, and unfairness in a heroic pursuit of a decent life. The Joad family lost everything they had, left everything they knew, and fought against all odds just to find work.
“The Dust Bowl” a Ken Burns documentary, graphically depicts the ruinous Oklahoma dust storms that caused the exodus of refugees.
The squalid labor camps were called “ragtowns.” Eleanor Roosevelt visited the migrant camps and defended Steinbeck.
Dorothea Lange’s photograph “Migrant Mother” became an iconic image of the Great Depression and often partners with discussions of Steinbeck’s book. I read somewhere that Mary Coin was embarrassed by the publicity surrounding the picture of herself. Marisa Silver has written a novel about both the subject of the photograph and the photographer, Dorothea Lange. (I haven’t read it yet but it has been well received.)
If you haven’t read The Grapes of Wrath find a copy ASAP! If you have you might want to revisit it or read any of Steinbeck’s wonderful novels: East of Eden and of Mice and Men are classics and I particularly love the characters in Cannery Row.
Are you a Steinbeck fan? What is your favorite novel?