First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads-driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.
A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America.
The Grapes of Wrath summed up its era in the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin summed up the years of slavery before the Civil War. Sensitive to fascist and communist criticism, Steinbeck insisted that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” be printed in its entirety in the first edition of the book—which takes its title from the first verse: “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s powerful landmark novel is perhaps the most American of American Classics.
Let's set the scene...
Emily has shown up at the Stars Hollow branch of the Gilmore family to spend the day with her granddaughter antiquing. Her shoes get muddy on her way in.
Rory: My mom found this great shoe cleaner. It's gets out pretty much anything. Do you want something to drink. There should be some iced tea in the fridge.
Emily: Iced tea would be nice. (opens fridge) Oh my god. There's nothing in here.
(Rory pours some cleaner on a cloth and starts wiping off Emily's shoes.)
Rory: I know, it's a little sparse.
Emily: It's the Grapes of Wrath.
Steinbeck gave a nobility and respect to a group of people traditionally forgotten by history. These were good, honest, hardworking people who were simply trying to find a new place in this world after they were forced out of the only homes they had ever known.
However, the most important part of the book to me was the idea that all of the Dust Bowl migrants were actually working together to make life better for the greater good. It's easy to think of others when you're sitting in your comfortable house, secure in the fact that you know where your next meal is coming from. But it's a beautiful, life-affirming thing to watch as people who haven't eaten for days give up their last morsel of food to ensure the health of a complete stranger. I think Steinbeck's thought on this can be summed up in one of my favorite quotes from the story:
"Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an' he foun' he didn't have no soul that was his'n. Says he foun' he jus' got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain't no good, 'cause his little piece of a soul wasn't no good 'less it was with the rest, an' was whole."
We are all a piece of one great, big soul and therefore taking care of others will nourish us in turn. I know we can be cynical about the state of the world today, but I see people acting on this idea every single day. We share one soul and one world so we might as well help each other to grow and flourish as best we can.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
Luke Danes is, without a doubt, the Tom Joad of Stars Hollow. If Tom wore a lot of plaid a a backwards baseball cap.