Monday, April 29, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath

Panda's simple thoughts on Grapes

I liked how (basically) every other chapter the narrator would step back from the actual story to give a big-picture narrative. In those parts it had a type of dialogue that wasn’t dialogue. It was the narrator assuming the voice/view of an outside character. It was an outside person looking in. And this let you view the main characters/the family’s situation in a wider perspective. 

All these outside “scenes” focus inwardly and connect to the main plot. 

Steinbeck paints an unlivable world. A world that reminds me very much of this one. Nothing has changed except the method of suffering. 

I liked how Steinbeck involved a lot of animals in this novel. The turtle. The cat. The dog. They were part of the picture too. 

This migration is perhaps the closest thing the U.S. had to European gypsies.  Or one of, anyway. It’s on the list. I want to call them nomads but their ties were so close to the land that they had no identity without it. They were not a “traveling people.” They were a people without a home.

Though you could compare them to the Hebrews searching for their Promised Land, I am reminded that even Israel struggles with its identity – even though it “has” Israel/its promised land. I don’t think Americans – at least white ones like the Joads – can HAVE a promised land. Even when whites take from other races we cut off our noses to spite our faces. The knife we use to cut it with is capitalism or the protestant work ethic. Same thing, really.

To show you just how twisted Captialsim/TPWE is, whites gave other whites derogatory names like “Okie.” Capitalism does not see race (unless it wants to). It finds hate even in the most familiar of places. That’s what makes it harder to get rid of. Its threads are thin but it has so many of them. 

Yes, it’s certainly woven into the bigger horrors of humanity (such as colonialism, slave trade, war, etc.) but I think the issue is that Capitalism/the Protestant Work Ethic will eventually crush those who believe in it – no matter your race.

And the white race ESPECIALLY needed to hear it. From this novel. Because we’re the ones who 
brought it into the world. We’re the ones tainting the world with this bull crap.  WHITE PEOPLE.

So, even if it’s not the official message of this novel,  I’d much rather read this book as a statement on how hopes and dreams – such as a promised land or self-madeness –are actually faults. The promise land, or the prosperity gospel, or the land of opportunity are sad illusions reinforced by capitalism.


“‘Well, we all got to make a livin’.’

‘Yeah,’ Tom said. “On’y I wisht they was some way to make her ‘thout takin’ her away from somebody else.’”

It’s passages like these that makes this novel still resonate today. To apply this to modern times: we no longer need to look for a promised land. There’s no more land to have even if we did. Humans cover it all. The only way to get your land is to literally take it from someone else. There is no middle class anymore. No in-between. It’s have or have not.

Steinbeck even acknowledges that California was once part of Mexico. Land is arbitrary. This book isn’t about land. It’s about what Capitalism has done to it. This is The Great American Novel. This captures “us” so perfectly…

When Noah decides to stay behind near the river, it reminded me of Siddhartha where, at the end, the river is all that Sid needs. Maybe if humanity was more like them (Siddhartha and Noah) humanity wouldn’t suffer as much. Live only where you can. Live on only enough.

Steinbeck’s line “the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage” reminded me of the biblical passage “our parents eat sour grapes and we’re the ones who suck and grit our teeth.” Blah, blah, blah, insert clever tie-in between the analogies here (I’m too lazy to create it b/c I’m heavy for the vintage).

Lastly: The ending of this novel I had NO FREAKING IDEA about. I guess people have only seen the movie because no one has ever told me about THIS. Oh my god. What an ending! I can see why they left it out of the movie (which I have not seen, either, but I sure as hell know it’s not in there).

Though Rose of Sharon lost a husband and a child, she was not “sucked” dry. There was always something more to give. And, because of that, always something more for others to take.

Hel speak:

I'm writing this without reading Panda's review. I don't care what you sez, fat Panda, I will not be influenced by you! Also, it's been a while since I read the book. I recent;y moved, had to wait for interwebs, then lost my computer, then was really tired, but now I'm here. Really.

The beginning and the end of Grapes really threw me off. I felt like it set Tom Joad up to be the bad guy. I immediately disliked him. I thought he was rude (although, come to find out, that's just how people talked back then. No one was afraid of stepping on toes); when he captured the turtle, I really thought that he was going to kill it. Although Tom isn't your typical protagonist (and really, he's not the main character - the main subject changes throughout the book) -, his flaws make him more human. You know all of his actions are carefully considered and are done for survival. Nobody I know has ever been in a slow, painful live-or-die situation. Who knows how any of us would act.

However, looking back, I almost feel like the Joad family is like the family in Chainsaw Massacre. Only, a little moe betta, and somehow you become sympathetic to them.

Because the Joad's, and really all the people in the book, aside from the wealthy farm owners, are almost feel like Steinback can't write. I mean, the character stalk like they are idiots. I felt my IQ dropping while I read it, and it made the book hard to get into.

In between the story line chapters, he featured chapters that explained the broader picture of the time and showcased his actual writing ability. And while it was good writing, I have to admit I skipped those sections. Mainly because I wanted to get back to the story (and because I got enough of the broader picture in my American Environmental History class). So really that's a compliment, right? Sometimes, in between all the "fambly"'s and the "I'm a-gonna"'s, Steinbeck would throw in something incredibly profound and my appreciation for him as a writer grew.

I thought it was interesting, though, that even though the Joad family was the center point, Steinback was really rather unbiased in his writing. I mean, I expected to be lectured to about the environment and all. Instead, I was taught economics and what people do to survive.

The characters were all fairly constant in their personalities. It's like they just kept chugging a long. They were predictable, and even though their environment and situation changed, they themselves were largely the same. Some exceptions: the Preacher, who stops preaching religion and starts lecturing against capitalism instead; Tom Joad, who eventually joins him in the cause, though the book ends before we really see any of that; and Rose of Sharon, who throughout the book was a whiny, I-want-to-punch-you-in-your-pregnant-belly, ignorant, selfish little girl - she ends up doing a 180, but who knows if that lasts.

Nobody does. Nobody knows because suddenly the book is over and nothing is resolved. So, fuck you, Steinbeck.

I hope you weren't expect any more from this post because

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