“An’ I got thinkin’, on’y it wasn’t thinkin’, it was deeper down than thinkin’. I got thinkin’ how we was holy when we was one thing, an’ mankin’ was holy when it was one thing. An’ it on’y got unholy when one mis’able little fella got the bit in his teeth an’ run off his own way, kickin’ an’ draggin’ an’ fightin’. Fella like that bust the holiness. But when they’re all workin’ together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang– that’s right, that’s holy.” (The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck)
I wish that we’d never heard of ‘the classics’, that you could just go and pick up an old-looking book and be absolutely flat-lined by what you read, without ever seeing it coming. Though knowing it to be a beautiful work, there was a lot I didn’t see coming about The Grapes of Wrath. The first thing I wasn’t expecting was how Steinbeck switches between his enormous cast of characters, the Joad family and hangers-on, one chapter and generalizing about the whole time period, or a whole profession, or all of humanity, the next. This switching between the sympathetic story of one single family and the larger context makes their struggles a part of the struggles of the great depression, and it’s only one step further for the reader to imagine the struggles of that era reflecting the struggles of the world. Steinbeck takes the particular, and fits it into the context of the whole.
If you’ve read The Grapes of Wrath, you’ll know that the ending is shocking both for its content and how abruptly and in-the-middle-of-things it appears. Though the modern reader may be used to authors leaving us to write the conclusion for ourselves, I didn’t expect such exploits from Steinbeck. The abruptness of the ending makes me think that Steinbeck’s purpose wasn’t to tell the story of the Joad family, or even the story of the great depression, but to train the reader’s imagination to easily make the connection between the struggle and pain of an individual and the general struggle of a people. If this was the point of the book, then he didn’t leave off in the middle of things at all – for I feel trained, so much more open to and on the lookout for suffering and so much more willing to help.
I’ve been fortunate enough to read some exquisite books recently, but this is the one I’d recommend out of all of them.
Recommended Action: Buy –
Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Length: 464 (why did I have the impression that this was a long, arduous work? It’s less than 500 pages and flew by)
Ending: As I said, controversial and does not tie up the story
Further Reading: After reading this, I think you’ll want either to read more Steinbeck or either dialect-rich works. For my part, the only book I can remember reading with this much excellent dialect is The Once and Future King, which is nothing like The Grapes of Wrath.