Goodreads: The Grapes of Wrath
When the banks and big companies start taking over the land, Tom Joad and his family head west with the Dust Bowl migration in an attempt to find a better life in California.
The Grapes of Wrath is, at heart, a political book, unabashedly calling out companies and capitalism and demanding unions and workers’ rights. Yet even with a clear agenda–not something most readers tend to favor in novels–it manages to also have an artistic vision. The thoughtful characters, unusual structure, and forceful narrative raise the story above mere politics.
I feel obliged to point out there are all kinds of criticisms that have been levied against The Grapes of Wrath, most notably that it seems primarily interested in white migrant workers and glosses over nearly everyone else. The book certainly is not perfect, and I don’t wish to imply that it is. Yet despite its flaws it manages to be almost unexpectedly compelling, drawing readers into the lives of the “average” Joad family and surprising them with its heart and almost lyrical prose.
Though the Joads may superficially comes across as “types,” I think Steinbeck actually does a remarkable job of portraying a complexly functioning family. The dynamics of the family unit change in fascinating ways as the group faces new obstacles. As the family moves away from their farm and their land, they have to find new ways to survive. The people in charge of the family change. The roles of each member change. The most important thing is that they try to stick together through it all, which I think helps make the characters likeable–even though some of them (coughRoseofSharoncough) are not.
The “interchapters” between each chapter of the main action nicely draw out Steinbeck’s argument away from simply the Joads to a larger scale. The first of these, “the turtle chapter,” is a bit infamously puzzling. However, I think that on the whole the interchapters are thoughtful and bring a new perspective to the problems of the novel. These chapters are also where Steinbeck writes some of his most beautiful passages.
In many ways, this book should be everything I normally don’t like in novel. It’s gritty. The characters are often annoying.. The message is overtly political. There’s such a thing as “interchapters” in the first place. However, I’ve read The Grapes of Wrath twice now and enjoyed it both times, so it’s hard for me to get away from the fact I really do like it.