The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

‘… in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.’

The Grapes of Wrath

Shocking and controversial when it was first published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic remains his undisputed masterpiece.

Set against the background of dust bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel West in search of the promised land. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and broken dreams, yet out of their suffering Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision; an eloquent tribute to the endurance and dignity of the human spirit. (Amazon)

I loved The Grapes of Wrath. It’s a book that totally surprised me by how much I loved it and I’m sure that whatever I write about it will not do it justice – my post merely skims the surface of this brilliant book. My copy has an Introduction by Robert DeMott, who is an American author, scholar, and editor best known for his influential scholarship on John Steinbeck and in it he writes that The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest of Steinbeck’s seventeen novels.

Steinbeck’s aggressive mixture of native philosophy, common sense politics, blue-collar radicalism, working class characters, folk wisdom, and home-spun literary form – all set to a rhythmic style and nervy, raw dialect – qualified the novel as the ‘American book” he set out to write. (page 1)

Cannery Row was the first of Steinbeck’s novels that I read and I thought then that Steinbeck’s style is perfect for me. With both books I felt that I was there in the thick of everything he described. His writing conjures up such vivid pictures and together with his use of dialect I really felt I was there in America in the 1930s travelling with the Joad family on their epic journey from Oklahoma to California. What a long, hard journey with such high hopes of a better life and what a tragedy when they arrived to find their dreams were shattered, their illusions destroyed and their hopes denied.

I liked the structure of the book with chapters advancing the story of the Joad family’s journey interspersed with general chapters about the current situation in the country giving snapshots of living conditions. But it’s the landscape and the characters (so many of them) together that made such an impression on me. I liked all the details Steinbeck gives, for example how everything, no matter how small has meaning and memories attached, how to decide what to leave and what to take as the Joads packed up to leave their home. Their belongings and their land is their whole being:

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it. They sat and looked at it and burned it into their memories. How’ll it be not to know what land’s outside the door? How if you wake up in the night and know—and know the willow tree’s not there? Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can’t. The willow tree is you. The pain on that mattress there—that dreadful pain—that’s you. (page 93)

Throughout the book, Steinbeck shows the inhumanity of man to man and also the dignity and compassion, the essential goodness and perseverance of individuals against such appalling conditions and inhumane treatment. Inevitably, I found myself comparing it to the situation today with the influx of migrants and refugees and the problems of illegal immigrants.

Steinbeck’s first wife, Carol chose the novel’s title from Howe’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ –  Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord, He is trampling on the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored… , which in turn is taken from the Book of Revelation Ch14:19-20: ‘So the angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes, and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.'(NIV)

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This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into the category of a book with a ‘fruit or vegetable‘ in the title. It is also one of my TBR books (a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018) and also a book on my Classics Club list.

  • Format: Paperback
  • Print Length: 476 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics 2000 (first published 1939)
  • Source: A present
  • My Rating: 5*

WWW Wednesday: 13 June 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

The Grapes of WrathOn Beulah Height (Dalziel & Pascoe, #17)

I’m making good progress with The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and I’m still loving it.The Joads have arrived in California and it’s not what they expected – too many homeless, hungry people desperate for work being moved on from place to place. Steinbeck’s writing is detailed and richly descriptive. I feel as though I’m on the road with the characters.

I’m also reading On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill, crime fiction about missing children in a Yorkshire village. A little girl took her dog out for a walk early one morning and didn’t come home. Three little girls had disappeared 15 years earlier and their bodies were never found. I’ve read nearly half the book and as usual with Hill’s books I love the characterisation, the humour and his use of dialect. It’s the first of my 10 Books of Summer.

Recently finished: Come a Little Closer by Rachel Abbott – definitely creepy and disturbing. It’s the first book of hers I’ve read, but the seventh one she’s written. It reads well as a standalone. It’s described as a psychological thriller and the characters are certainly unstable, stressed and in complex and dangerous relationships. I gave it three stars on Goodreads – maybe that’s being generous, as I’m not at all sure I did ‘like’ it.

Come A Little Closer (DCI Tom Douglas #7)

Synopsis:

They will be coming soon. They come every night. 
  
Snow is falling softly as a young woman takes her last breath. 
  
Fifteen miles away, two women sit silently in a dark kitchen. They don’t speak, because there is nothing left to be said. 
  
Another woman boards a plane to escape the man who is trying to steal her life. But she will have to return, sooner or later. 
  
These strangers have one thing in common. They each made one bad choice – and now they have no choices left. Soon they won’t be strangers, they’ll be family… 
  
When DCI Tom Douglas is called to the cold, lonely scene of a suspicious death, he is baffled. Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she get there? 
  
How many more must die? Who is controlling them, and how can they be stopped?

I may write more about this book once I’ve sorted out my thoughts about it.

Reading next: Stalker by Lisa Stone, due to be published tomorrow 14 June.

Synopsis:

Someone is always watching…

Derek Flint is a loner. He lives with his mother and spends his
evenings watching his clients on the CCTV cameras he has installed inside their homes. He likes their companionship – even if it’s through a screen.

When a series of crimes hits Derek’s neighbourhood, DC Beth Mayes begins to suspect he’s involved. How does he know so much about the victims’ lives? Why won’t he let anyone into his office? And what is his mother hiding in that strange, lonely house?

As the crimes become more violent, Beth must race against the clock to find out who is behind the attacks. Will she uncover the truth in time? And is Derek more dangerous than even she has guessed?

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

My Wednesday Post: 9 May 2018

There are two memes I take part in on Wednesdays:

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I have three books on the go at the moment,  – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, from my TBR shelves.  I’m only up to chapter 3 so far but I’m enjoying his descriptive writing so much as Tom Joad returns to his family home in Oklahoma during a drought as a storm blew up and dust clouds covered everything. Tom, convicted of homicide has just been released from prison after serving four years of a seven year sentence.

I’m also reading Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander, a novel set in Germany during the Second World War, about the life of Magda, one of Hitler’s food tasters. See yesterday’s post for the opening paragraph and synopsis. I’m in chapter 6 at the moment when Magda sees photos taken by an SS officer at Auschwitz, that show that Hitler is lying about how the Reich is dealing with Jews and prisoners of war near the Eastern front.

The Summer Before the War

The third book I’m reading is The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, about the  summer of 1914, set in Rye in East Sussex when spinster Beatrice Nash arrived to teach at the local grammar school. Her appointment was the result of Agatha Kent’s and Lady Emily Wheaton’s wish to have a female teacher as a Latin teacher. I’m in the middle of chapter 5 in which Beatrice is at Lady Emily’s annual garden party with the school governors, the Headmaster and staff and some of the local dignitaries. I’m finding it rather slow-going so far.

The last book I finished is Belinda Bauer’s latest book Snap, one of my NetGalley books. It’s crime fiction about Jack and his sisters and what happens to them after their mother is murdered. Belinda Bauer’s books are so original, full of tension and suspense. I’ll write more about it in a later post.

What do you think you’ll read next: I shall probably read The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott next, or if not next then by the end of the month as it’s the book chosen by my book group for our May meeting.

The Inheritance

Synopsis:

Written in 1849, when Louisa May Alcott was just seventeen years old, this is a captivating tale of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan who innocently wields the charms of virtue, beauty, and loyalty to win her true birthright. Her inheritance, nothing less than the English estate on which she is a paid companion, is a secret locked in a long-lost letter. But Edith is loath to claim it _ for more important to her by far is the respect and affection of her wealthy patrons, and the love of a newfound friend, the kind and noble Lord Percy. This novel is Alcott writing under the influence of the gothic romances and sentimental novels of her day. The introduction considers early literary influences in the light of Alcott’s mature style

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you?