Friday, 10 March 2017

#Review: The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Every once in a while I feel compelled to reread a book I read years ago. This was indeed so in this instance as I’ve had to read Of Mice and Men so many times during my teaching career that I may possibly know passages off by heart. I’ve also read The Pearl for work.  But The Grapes of Wrath is one I myself read when I was at school. It touched me so deeply that I painted a picture relating to it in my after-school Art workshop.  I believe I still have that painting knocking about somewhere. Now a book which inspires in that way surely deserves a reread even if it isn’t considered a classic.


The Grapes of Wrath is as compelling as when I first read it as a teenager.  So many quotes kept jumping out at me because they were apt and brilliantly expressed a salient point. To see these please look at this blog’s #amreading page.

What I find even more interesting is how relevant the writing is right now, particularly in view of what’s happening in the States. This often happens to me – I find I’m reading something which relates directly to a political situation or topic which is uppermost in people’s minds.

It took me a little while to get into the rhythms of the American voices but they were soon ringing in my ear with familiarity as I read the dialogue. One of the aspects I’d forgotten about is that Steinbeck intersperses the Joad family’s tale with a narrative which is about the more general state of the nation at the time the book is set. I found this a little jarring at times but understand the need for Steinbeck’s political commentary within these chapters. The further into the story I went, the less jarring this became.

My favourite character is most definitely the preacher, Casey. In my mind’s eye I see him as a lean figure who makes me think of my dad. Then there’s all that wisdom Casey spouts. His words make sense to me in our turbulent times as much as they do for the Joads and other transient people he encounters along their exodus. His significance as a shepherd of men is a thread which runs all the way through the book and it is no surprise that Tom Joad finally feels the need to follow in Casey’s footsteps.

When I first read this book as a teenager, I remember how annoying I found Rose of Sharon’s character.  So the book’s ending made a massive impact on me and stayed central in my mind. I suspect this is one of the reasons my teenage-self ended up creating a piece of art related to the book.

Now that I’m older and know more about the writing process I see that Steinbeck deliberately creates Rose of Sharon’s character to be one some readers may have little sympathy for. The impact of her actions at the end of the book are made more powerful because of this.

I can safely say that The Grapes of Wrath has not lost its power for me. It is a book about the cruel lessons life has to offer and yet it still manages to suggest there is hope.

John Steinbeck

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