Victor Davis's Reviews > The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
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Sep 05, 2017

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I don't know why this book won a Pulitzer and East of Eden did not. The latter is not merely superior, it's as if it were written by a different author. "Grapes" is very archetypal by now, the story of the promise of hope and the American dream, dashed in a prolonged period of disillusionment suffered by hardworking people. The gist is that there is nothing wrong with the people, but with the system. But weren't these Oklahoma farmers the ones who over-farmed their land into the oblivion that was the Dust Bowl? As soon as they become the dispossessed and downtrodden, we are immediately, reflexively supposed to empathize with them. Why is that?

This book reminded me of The Jungle and Lupita Manana. They are the universal stories of (to quote the author I'm currently reading) "the Jew in Germany, the Mexican in any number of states, or a member of any 'inferior' group. Only the details would have differed. The story remains the same." (Black Like Me) Steinbeck alternates between short omniscient vignettes describing an aspect of the great westward migration with the limited family-centered story. I loved the vignettes. The story is mostly dialogue-driven, with very little depth to the characters. They are all carbon copies of a single archetype: the hard-talking, hard-scrabble man of the land, honorable and determined, but ultimately ignorant of the bigger picture. I'm amazed how much has changed culturally in America in less than a hundred years. So many people lament about the "good ol days." In this book, men never shy from a fight; they are short-tempered and quick to swing, even kill. Husbands are always threatening to hit their wives for talking out of turn, and the young men are always "runnin down girls." Today what we would call brashness, violence, domestic abuse, and rape are what in Steinbeck's Depression-era world humdrum everyday events stemming from a culture of honor.
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Reading Progress

August 23, 2017 – Started Reading
September 5, 2017 – Shelved
September 12, 2017 –
page 372
81.76% "Good book, but about 3x as long as it needs to be."
September 13, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Greg (new)

Greg Seeley Read it years ago but never really thought about it in this way. With respect to overfarming, This was what they knew at the time. I think we need to be cautious about applying present-day standards to earlier times. That said, a very well done and insightful analysis.


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