Grapes of Wrath
pages Reissue edition (October 1992)
Penguin USA (Paper);
When The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939,
America, still recovering from the Great Depression, came face
to face with itself in a startling, lyrical way. John Steinbeck
gathered the country's recent shames and devastations--the Hoovervilles,
the desperate, dirty children, the dissolution of kin, the oppressive
labor conditions--in the Joad family. Then he set them down
on a westward-running road, local dialect and all, for the world
to acknowledge. For this marvel of observation and perception,
he won the Pulitzer in 1940.
The prize must have come, at least in part, because alongside
the poverty and dispossession, Steinbeck chronicled the Joads'
refusal, even inability, to let go of their faltering but
unmistakable hold on human dignity. Witnessing their degeneration
from Oklahoma farmers to a diminished band of migrant workers
is nothing short of crushing. The Joads lose family members
to death and cowardice as they go, and are challenged by everything
from weather to the authorities to the California locals themselves.
As Tom Joad puts it: "They're a-workin' away at our spirits.
They're a tryin' to make us cringe an' crawl like a whipped
bitch. They tryin' to break us. Why, Jesus Christ, Ma, they
comes a time when the on'y way a fella can keep his decency
is by takin' a sock at a cop. They're workin' on our decency."
The point, though, is that decency remains intact, if somewhat
battle-scarred, and this, as much as the depression and the
plight of the "Okies," is a part of American history. When
the California of their dreams proves to be less than edenic,
Ma tells Tom: "You got to have patience. Why, Tom--us people
will go on livin' when all them people is gone. Why, Tom,
we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out.
Why, we're the people--we go on." It's almost as if she's
talking about the very novel she inhabits, for Steinbeck's
characters, more than most literary creations, do go on. They
continue, now as much as ever, to illuminate and humanize
an era for generations of readers who, thankfully, have no
experiential point of reference for understanding the depression.
The book's final, haunting image of Rose of Sharon--Rosasharn,
as they call her--the eldest Joad daughter, forcing the milk
intended for her stillborn baby onto a starving stranger,
is a lesson on the grandest scale. "'You got to,'" she says,
simply. And so do we all. --Melanie Rehak
Steinbeck's 'Grapes,' With His Diary of Writing It
March 30, 1989
By CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT
On April 14, a half century will have passed since the original
publication of John Steinbeck's masterpiece, ''The Grapes of Wrath.''
To celebrate the occasion, Viking Press is bringing out a new edition
of the novel with an introduction by Studs Terkel, as well as ''Working
Days,'' a diary kept by Steinbeck while he wrote his Depression
epic of tenant farmers making their slow and painful way from the
Oklahoma Dust Bowl to the migrant labor camps of California.
The occasion of the 50th Anniversary Edition is a happy one. It
gives one a chance to reread the novel after many years and to discover
how remarkably well it stands up. Tainted only by Steinbeck's tendency
to describe his characters' virtues instead of dramatizing them,
his somewhat shallow proselytizing for collective action and the
ending in which Rose of Sharon offers the starving stranger her
breast, which has always struck this reader as portentous and off-key,
the book retains to an impressive degree its power to convey how
the plight of the Dust Bowl migrants was the tragedy of an entire
social class as well as that of the Joad family. [read
- ACCESS Indiana TLC
Guide to John Steinbeck - categorized index of Steinbeck sites.
of Wrath Project - critical essays on the structure and meaning
of the book.
Steinbeck Bibliography - basic bibliographical information
and digital scans of many John Steinbeck first editions.
- John Steinbeck
Homepage - focuses on the life and works of the author.
Steinbeck Page - links and resources, including articles,
essays, speeches, prefaces, and introductions.
- John Steinbeck's Pacific
Grove - self-guided driving tour featuring local sites relating
to the lives and work of Steinbeck and marine naturalist Edward
- John Steinbeck:
The California Novels - features character lists, summaries,
maps, other links.
Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies - archive of Steinbeck
manuscripts, first editions, letters, secondary works, photographs,
and related materials.
County Historical Society: John Steinbeck - provides a chronology
of his life, list of works, places associated with his writings,
- National Steinbeck Center
- presents the work and philosophy of the author through interactive
exhibtry, artifacts, dramatic performances, and educational programs.
Also includes annual August Steinbeck Festival information.
Mice and Men - includes synopsis of the opera by Carlisle