The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


 Topic:      August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (1 of 28), Read 58 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Matt McDowall spokospoko@gmail.com

Date: Tuesday, August 01, 2006 07:17 AM


This is taken mostly from Wikipedia, with some extrapolation and tweaking by me:


John Ernst Steinbeck III (February 27, 1902–December 20, 1968) was arguably one of the best known and most widely read American writers of the 20th century. A winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, he is best known for his novella Of Mice and Men (1937) and his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), both of which examine the lives of the working class and the migrant worker during the Great Depression.


Steinbeck wrote in the naturalist style, portraying people as the center of his stories. His people and his stories were taken from real life struggles in the first half of the 20th century. His body of work reflects his wide range of interests, including marine biology, jazz, politics, philosophy, history, and myth.


Seventeen of his works, including Cannery Row (1945) and The Pearl (1947), went on to become Hollywood films, and Steinbeck himself achieved success as a Hollywood writer, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing for Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, in 1945.


He is known as a regionalist, naturalist, mystic, proletarian writer, moved to anger by the brutality of the Depression.


The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes. A celebrated Hollywood film version was made in 1940, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford. John Ford won the Academy Award for Directing, as did Jane Darwell for Best Supporting Actress. Other nominations were for Best Picture, Henry Fonda for Best Actor, Robert L. Simpson for Best Film Editing, Edmund H. Hansen for Best Sound Recording, and Nunnally Johnson for Best Screenplay Writing. This film has subsequently been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. The novel has also been the inspiration for quite a bit of music, including Woody Guthrie's "The Ballad of Tom Joad" and Bruce Springsteen's album The Ghost of Tom Joad.


The success of The Grapes of Wrath, however, was not free of controversy, as Steinbeck's liberal political views, portrayal of the ugly side of capitalism, and mythical reinterpretation of the historical events of the Dust Bowl migrations led to backlash against the author, especially close to home. In fact, claiming the book was obscene and misrepresented conditions in the county, the Kern County Board of Supervisors banned the book from the county's public schools and libraries in August 1939, lasting until January 1941. Of the controversy, Steinbeck himself wrote, "The vilification of me out here from the large landowners and bankers is pretty bad. The latest is a rumor started by them that the Okies hate me and have threatened to kill me for lying about them. I'm frightened at the rolling might of this damned thing. It is completely out of hand; I mean a kind of hysteria about the book is growing that is not healthy."


Further info:

Wikipedia: John Steinbeck

Wikipedia: The Grapes of Wrath

"Steinbeck's Myth of the Okies" (I haven't read it, but I don't think it's written in support of Steinbeck's portrayal)

"Death in the Dust"—Steinbeck's first-person account of the squatters' camps


—matt.


This life's a trick of the light. —James


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (2 of 28), Read 44 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Tuesday, August 01, 2006 11:45 PM


That's excellent information, Matt. I had no idea that he received so much negative backlash from this novel. I started listening to the Recorded Books audiobook production of it today. So far, I am very impressed except that the reader, excellent otherwise, has a tendency to do a Henry Fonda imitation on Tom Joad's dialogue. Like Ruth, once again I had forgotten just how good Steinbeck was. The description of the turtle in the beginning is a jewel. Thus far, I have just reached his first conversation with the preacher.


Barb


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (3 of 28), Read 41 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com

Date: Thursday, August 03, 2006 01:44 PM


Oh boy, I need some encouragement to keep slogging through this book! I'm at about the end of Chap. 6 and finding it hard going. First, I don't think I appreciate Steinbeck's style, especially when he's writing about people. (I agree that the chapter-long description of a turtle crossing a highway was well written. Why doesn't it "work" for me when he's writing about a truck driver in a diner?) Second -- and it is hard for me to admit this -- I find Tom Joad very unsympathetic. Why is he so unpleasant to people who are doing him a favor? (I'm thinking of the trucker and the guy who shares the catch of rabbits with Tom & the preacher.) Why can't he feel the teeniest bit of remorse about killing someone? I had this image of Henry Fonda in my head, the scene in which he's saying, more or less, wherever someone is downtrodden and fighting for his rights, I'll be there... a real hero. And so far, Tom seems more like a creep.


I know it's early on in the book, and I'll keep reading for a while...but would love some insights to help me appreciate it more fully!


Mary Ellen


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (4 of 28), Read 39 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Thursday, August 03, 2006 06:01 PM


I think I am right about where you are, Mary Ellen. They are just skinning the rabbits. My only explanation for Tom Joad is that he is fairly typical of a certain type of Western personality, particularly at that point in our history. The way he talks reminds me a lot of my Dad who grew up dirt poor in Nebraska. If I remember correctly, I think Joad develops into something more as the book develops.


What surprises me is Steinbeck's ability to weave a message through his writing without distracting me so far. I didn't appreciate the extent of the political statement when I was a teenager. And, usually now I would want him to turn it into an essay rather than a novel. But, there is something about his accuracy in painting these characters that works for me, at least in the first few chapters.


I think it will be worth it to you for the history, if nothing else, Mary Ellen. Maybe someone else can tell us if Tom Joad gets a little less hard boiled.


Barb


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (5 of 28), Read 41 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: R Bavetta xyzrbavetta@prodigy.net

Date: Thursday, August 03, 2006 07:41 PM


I'm already in California. It's been at least 30 years since I last read this book, and it has lost some of its charm for me.


I know where you're coming from, Mary Ellen. I love the descriptions of the countryside. The first chapter is almost like poetry. But often my eyes glaze when it comes to the people. Except for Tom, they're all pretty one-dimensional. By now, I'm heartily sick of the bad, bad, rich, and the noble, honest poor.


As I've mentioned before, I dislike books where the author puts his point into the mouths of his characters, and here Steinbeck does it all the time. The story would have been enough. Does he think we're too dumb to get it if he doesn't have his characters spell it out?


And I used to like Steinbeck so much.

Ruth



Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.

-- Rene Magritte


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (6 of 28), Read 37 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Friday, August 04, 2006 05:11 PM


Any more Grapes of Wrath readers? This book has been nominated multiple times and finally got chosen during this vote. I am wondering who nominated it.


Barb


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (7 of 28), Read 38 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Matt McDowall spokospoko@gmail.com

Date: Friday, August 04, 2006 06:30 PM


I'm reading it, but only about 1/3 the way through. At first I was enjoying it quite a bit, but that has waned somewhat. As someone mentioned, the lack of character development is bothering me. I like Tom quite a bit, and his mother and Casy are all right. I'm not at all wild about the caricaturesque grandparents, though, and most of the other characters I could take or leave. But as I said, I'm not real far in. They've just hooked up with the Wilsons.


I am still enjoying reading it, even if a bit less. But for some reason this summer I have much less free time than I usually do. So I'm not sure when I'll get through it.


—matt.


This life's a trick of the light. —James


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (8 of 28), Read 38 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Sherry Keller shkell@earthlink.net

Date: Saturday, August 05, 2006 07:42 AM


I nominated this because it's just about the only Steinbeck I had never read. And of course I didn't bring the book with me because I thought I was only going to be gone three weeks. I should get home Sunday and I hope to start in on it.


Sherry


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (9 of 28), Read 41 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Saturday, August 05, 2006 01:13 PM


I think my enjoyment of it is being enhanced by the quality of the audiobook performance. Despite the reader's tendency to make Joad sound like Henry Fonda, the voices in general are excellent. I often finish audiobooks wondering if I would like the book as much in print when I'm listening to a great reader.


I'm glad you'll be reading it, Sherry.


Barb


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (10 of 28), Read 41 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Iiris Murto iiris.murto@gmail.com

Date: Sunday, August 06, 2006 04:30 AM


I'm late, I know, but I'm reading this too. The school work is annoyingly getting on my way, though.


So, only four chapters into the book, my opinions are based on very little so far, but there's few things I liked. First of, the way Steinbeck is able to say a lot with few words, like the first chapter and the descriptions. Sometimes you read something and you have pages after pages describing something, and you're still like "huh?". Steinbeck nails it with few words.


Secondly, I'm not disliking Tom Joad, like some of you. Then again, I haven't seen lot of him, yet. And Anna Karenina taught me a lesson or two about disliking the characters.


Third, I'm really looking forward to reading more of this. As a non-American this isn't a topic I'd be familiar with, and I suspect I'll feel differently about the Great Depression and stuff like that (yup, reading the back cover again).


Anyways, just wanted to say I'm reading this too.


ii


Humor is reason gone mad.

(Groucho Marx)


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (11 of 28), Read 39 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Sunday, August 06, 2006 01:24 PM


Oh good, Iiris, I'm glad you'll be in on this. I will be very interested in the perspective of a non-U.S. citizen.


I usually love Steinbeck's descriptions of the land, insects, animals, etc. He has a true feel for that, given his background. Since I grew up only the first generation of my family off the farm, it may resonate with me more than others.


Barb


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (12 of 28), Read 43 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Iiris Murto iiris.murto@gmail.com

Date: Monday, August 07, 2006 12:55 AM


That's exactly what I'm talking about! The backgrounds of all of us are so different (I'm a city girl, you don't get me into the countryside without serious battle and bribery) that I can't wait to see if you took it differently. However, I'm surprised I'm tolerating the nature stuff, usually I'm bored half way down the page going "yes, the grass grew, now tell me something interesting!" But you having your roots in the farming should make you look at the event differently, right? It's interesting how much, if at all, our personal backgrounds have to do with how we read something...


Okay, clearly it's too early in the morning, and I haven't had enough coffee yet, so I'll be quiet now. Hoping to read more today. Statistics and probability math exam (and cost accounting exam) on Friday keeping me busy, though...


Good morning!

ii =)


Humor is reason gone mad.

(Groucho Marx)


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (13 of 28), Read 46 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Monday, August 07, 2006 07:44 AM


Yes, I definitely do look at the agricultural part of this differently, Iiris. I can almost feel the dirt in my hands. Your reaction made me smile though. It's a perfect illustration of the difference in backgrounds.


This book should be a wonderful antidote to your immersion in numbers.


Barb


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (14 of 28), Read 37 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Matt McDowall spokospoko@gmail.com

Date: Monday, August 07, 2006 05:32 PM


Growing up in the Nebraska panhandle, I think I had a similar reaction to Barb. When he started talking about the dust, I could feel the worry. That's good topsoil blowing away, and even now it makes a person worry a bit about a coming dustbowl. I grew up in town, but that kind of thinking suffuses the culture in rural areas.


—matt.


This life's a trick of the light. —James


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (15 of 28), Read 36 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com

Date: Tuesday, August 08, 2006 07:07 PM


Thanks for the encouragement, all. (And Ruth, your finding it harder going this time around was, oddly enough, encouraging, too!) I will stick with it!


I am definitely not a farm girl -- grew up in the suburbs, prefer the city and don't even like to garden! So maybe I have less affinity for this book. But it's not the description of place, as much as people, that turns me off. As Ruth (and others) have said, the one-dimensionality. And I agree that the grandparents are a bit too much. As Grandma would say, "Aaaa-MEN!"


Mary Ellen


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (16 of 28), Read 26 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Wednesday, August 09, 2006 11:33 PM


I'm glad you are sticking with it, Mary Ellen.


Matt, my parents were both from Nebraska. My mom was born in Cozad and my dad in Gothenburg. Once when I was visiting my mom's family, there was a dust storm. It would have been in the 50's and I'll never forget it. The air outside was all light brown. You literally couldn't see more than a few feet. And, there was a light haze of dust on everything in the house afterward though doors and windows were tightly shut.


I was really moved by Steinbeck's talk about our remove from the land when we don't work it, when we don't own it, from the guy on the tractor working for the big conglomerate to the folks in town. This point just keeps becoming more relevant.


S

P

O

I

L

E

R

*

*

*

*




I am on the road with them now. Grandpa's death and their decision to bury him themselves was very moving to me. I also relate totally to the son who is trying to listen and feel every aspect of the vehicle to spot trouble. I remember having old cars when I was younger and hearing that one little different sound that meant I couldn't get to work--the difference is that I didn't have a clue how to fix it!


Barb


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (17 of 28), Read 28 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Cindy Ash

Date: Sunday, August 13, 2006 10:27 AM


Yikes, I forgot about this discussion and am not sure I'm gonna have time to reread (school has started, free reading season is over, sadly)


But I read this book the first time when I was 11. Could not put it down. It was the first time I remember realizing how much injustice and cruelty there was in the world, yet I was hooked by the story. My dad had to take the book from me at one point because I kept coming to the dinner table in near tears. Fortunately he was a book worm too and we talked about the story. He told me tons of what he remembered hearing when he was a kid (he was from New England) Anyway - I read it again a few times since. Thinking about some scenes still moves me.


BTW, whats amazing about this book is that Steinbeck was not an early reader. In fact it was a relatives gift of Mort de Arthur at 11 that got him hooked. What treasures we might have lost.


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (18 of 28), Read 26 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Pres Lancaster preslan369@yahoo.com

Date: Sunday, August 13, 2006 01:44 PM




The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights: From the Winchester Manuscripts of Thomas Malory & Other Sources by John Steinbeck (Paperback - April 1, 1993)



pres


Being dead is no excuse. Let there be happy chaos.


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (19 of 28), Read 21 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com

Date: Monday, August 14, 2006 01:15 PM


I'm still plugging away with the Joad family, finding it somewhat easier going. (Right now they're in California in a "government camp.") Ma has really pulled me into this book. She is such a powerful character, maybe a bit too idealized, but she keeps me going. (For more of my thoughts on Ma, see below the SPOILER!)


I'm finding that my eyes glaze over at two different sections: when Steinbeck is talking in generalities ("the migrants did this, that or the other"); and whenever the characters start to speak for Steinbeck. Oh, how I skim whenever the preacher gets going! Or, rather, gits goin'. (I'm not a big fan of dialect, either. It put me off Mark Twain for life.)


Do those chapters summarizing the actions/experiences of the nameless work for everyone/anyone else? I find them unbearably didactic, but I wonder whether this narrative choice is part of what won the Pulitzer.\



SPOLER!!

*

*

*

*

*

*

I think the Ma's revelation of the death of Grandma was one of the most powerful points in the book thus far. What a strong, strong woman! Capable of doing so much to help her family -- yet Steinbeck shows that it cost her to ride through the night next to the dead body (of her mother, or Pa's -- not quite sure).

I did feel a little guilty for my slight feeling of relief with the death of Granma & Granpa, both of whom annoyed the heck out of me as characters! Shows the strength of the writing, I guess, that I feel guilty about feeling happy that these fictional lives have ended!


Mary Ellen


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (20 of 28), Read 22 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: R Bavetta xyzrbavetta@prodigy.net

Date: Monday, August 14, 2006 02:34 PM


Ma began to grate on me eventually. She was just too strong and wise for me to believe.


Ruth



Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.

-- Rene Magritte


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (21 of 28), Read 20 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Monday, August 14, 2006 10:52 PM


Sometimes I lose patience with the essay-like sections and sometimes I like them, Mary Ellen. They remind me a bit of Tolstoy's techniques in War and Peace and I wonder if Steinbeck thought of that novel when he was writing this. Victor Hugo also did it in Les Miserables. One of my favorites was the rules that developed for the camps as they stopped along the road.


I loved Ma when she refused to let Tom stay behind when one of the cars broke down. And, I loved Pa's reaction when he called her sassy. I wasn't sure that it was realistic when she snapped into that fighting persona without some effort to introduce her objections reasonably first. But, I suppose that it might be put down to her tiredness. I think she is my favorite character in the novel. I usually believe her because there has to be someone who provides that consistency for the group and mothers often step up to that role.


Barb


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (22 of 28), Read 22 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com

Date: Tuesday, August 15, 2006 01:29 PM


Ruth, I agree that in some ways, Ma is just too good to be true. She's almost mythic. I'm about 3/4 through the novel, and I haven't found her too grating yet.


I don't think the strength of this book is in the creation of realistic characters. They all pretty much seem like stereotypes to me. It may be unfair to judge, since I have a good chunk to go, but I think its strength is in hitting the comfortable reader over the head with the soul-deadening realities facing these poor people -- hundreds of thousands of Americans caught in circumstances they could not foresee, and possibly could not understand even when they were tight in the vise. (As to "comfortable reader": just about anybody with access to a book and the ability to read it, is "comfortable" compared to the Dust Bowl migrants.) Though I find the writing clunky, the dialogue often clumsy, the characters contrived more to Stand For Something than to be like real people, the book as a whole just screams out (to borrow from A. Miller): Attention must be paid! Not easy reading, but I'm grateful to be reading it.


Mary Ellen


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (23 of 28), Read 20 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Pres Lancaster preslan369@yahoo.com

Date: Tuesday, August 15, 2006 01:59 PM


MARY ELLEN: YES !


pres


Being dead is no excuse. Let there be happy chaos.


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (24 of 28), Read 19 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: R Bavetta xyzrbavetta@prodigy.net

Date: Tuesday, August 15, 2006 07:44 PM


You're absolutely right, Mary Ellen. It is an important book for that reason. I guess I was just disappointed because I had loved the book on several previous readings.


Ruth



Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.

-- Rene Magritte


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (25 of 28), Read 21 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com

Date: Wednesday, August 16, 2006 02:24 PM


I finished the book last night... hence, this post will be


ONE



BIG



SPOILER!!


I'm trying to decide whether the ending was good -- leaving us in the middle like that. On the one hand, I feel it was incomplete; on the other, I don't think I'd want to read of the further disintegration and suffering of the Joad family. They have no money, no food, no prospect of work for another 3 months, no possibility of getting "relief." Their car isn't working and chances are that their one remaining mechanic/ driver will take off with the current "love of his life" at the first opportunity anyway. Things aren't looking good for them, and so I think I come down on the side of being satisfied with the closing scene -- the transformation of Rose of Sharon from a self-involved whiner to a budding Universal Mother figure (an apple that has not fallen far from the maternal tree!) -- someone literally giving of herself to help another survive.


An earlier post noted that Steinbeck's poor people are all good (well, except for the woman who thought everyone else was going to hell in a handbasket) and the rich people all bad. I'll take it a step further: when a poor person does something that would generally be seen as "bad," we learn that he (or she) "jes' can't he'p" himself or herself, and that makes it OK. Uncle John just can't help wasting 2 precious dollars on drink; Tom just can't help killing people; Ruthie just can't help being a selfish nasty little weasel (apologies to the weasels of the world) who blabs the big secret that forces Tom to take off on his own. (When Ma doesn't even give Ruthie a mild reprimand, I was so exasperated! The kid needed a good swift kick in the pants nearly every time she appeared in the book, and the only one willing to call her to task and make her behave humanly was the old lady monitoring the croquet game.) It seems to me that to forgive all the "sins" of the poor because they are poor, is more than a little demeaning of their dignity and, perversely, justifies the prejudices of the better-off who say, "they just aren't like us."


On the other hand, Ma's statement, that if poor people want help, they should look to other poor people, is statistically true: the lower the income bracket, the more (proportionally) generous people are. Maybe because they have personal experience with insufficiency and the need for interdependence.


In the end, though I didn't love the book, I am very glad I've read it.


Mary Ellen


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (26 of 28), Read 13 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Tuesday, August 29, 2006 08:51 PM


I finished The Grapes of Wrath too and then didn't get back here to write a last note. There are many flaws to this book and we've noted most of them. However, it absolutely had to be written. And, I'm sure the simplicity of it made it more appealing to a broader spectrum of people which insured that it had greater influence. Though the story-telling techniques are dated, the message is not. I kept finding parallels with contemporary events throughout. It was also interesting to think about the continuum from the 30's to today. I'd like to think that the social safety nets put into place during FDR's administration at least made it possible for those people to survive.


Barb


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (27 of 28), Read 11 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Mary Ellen Burns smeburns@yahoo.com

Date: Friday, September 01, 2006 01:49 PM


Barbara, your point about the relevance to today is, sadly, well taken. Probably a number of still-uprooted Katrina evacuees would find many aspects of the Okie experience similar to their own. And unfortunately, many folks in government today have the dismantling of that safety net one of their goals.


Mary Ellen


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Topic: August novel: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (28 of 28), Read 14 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com

Date: Friday, September 01, 2006 04:42 PM


You point out important parallels, Mary Ellen. I kept thinking of Bush and his cronies as I read this.


Barb


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