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First edition cover
|Cover artist||Elmer Hader|
|Publisher||The Viking Press-James Lloyd|
|April 14, 1939|
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Elmer Hader|
|Publisher||The Viking Press-James Lloyd|
|April 14, 1939|
The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.
Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other "Okies", they sought jobs, land, dignity, and a future.
The Grapes of Wrath is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes due to its historical context and enduring legacy. A celebrated Hollywood film version, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford, was made in 1940.
The narrative begins just after Tom Joad is paroled from McAlester prison for homicide. On his return to his home near Sallisaw, Oklahoma, Tom meets former preacher Jim Casy, whom he remembers from his childhood, and the two travel together. When they arrive at Tom's childhood farm home, they find it deserted. Disconcerted and confused, Tom and Casy meet their old neighbor, Muley Graves, who tells them the family has gone to stay at Uncle John Joad's home nearby. Graves tells them that the banks have evicted all the farmers off their land, but he refuses to leave the area.
The next morning, Tom and Casy go to Uncle John's. Tom finds his family loading a Hudson saloon converted to a truck with the remains of their possessions; with their crops destroyed by the Dust Bowl, the family defaulted on their bank loans. As their farm is repossessed, the Joads have no option but to seek work in California, described in handbills as fruitful and offering high pay. The Joads put everything they have into making the journey. Although leaving Oklahoma would be breaking parole, Tom decides it is worth the risk, and invites Casy to join him and his family.
Traveling west on Route 66, the Joad family find the road crowded with other migrants. In makeshift camps, they hear many stories from others, some returning from California, and worry about lessening prospects. Along the road, Granpa dies and they bury him in a field; Granma dies close to the California state line; and both Noah (the eldest Joad son) and Connie Rivers (the husband of the pregnant Joad daughter, Rose of Sharon) split from the family. Led by Ma, the remaining members realize they can only continue, as nothing is left for them in Oklahoma.
Reaching California, they find the state oversupplied with labor, so wages are low and workers are taken advantage of. The big corporate farmers are in collusion, and smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices. Weedpatch Camp, one of the clean, utility-supplied camps operated by the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal agency, offers better conditions, but does not have enough resources to care for all the needy families. As a Federal facility, the camp protects the migrants from harassment by California deputies.
|“||How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.||”|
— Chapter 19
In response to the exploitation, Casy becomes a labor organizer and tries to recruit for a labor union. The remaining Joads work as strikebreakers in a peach orchard where Casy is involved in a strike that eventually turns violent. When Tom Joad witnesses Casy's fatal beating, he kills the attacker and flees as a fugitive. The Joads later leave the orchard for a cotton farm, where Tom is at risk of arrest for the homicide.
He bids farewell to his mother, promising to work for the oppressed. Rose of Sharon's baby is stillborn. Ma Joad remains steadfast and forces the family through the bereavement. With rain, the Joads' dwelling is flooded, and they move to higher ground. In the final chapter of the book, the family take shelter from the flood in an old barn. Inside they find a young boy and his father, who is dying of starvation. Rose of Sharon takes pity on the man and offers him her breast, so that he can be saved. Hers is the only action taken by a member of the Joad family that is not futile.
|“||This is the beginning—from "I" to "we". If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into "I", and cuts you off forever from the "we".||”|
— Chapter 14
The novel developed from The Harvest Gypsies, a series of seven articles that ran in the San Francisco News, from October 5 to 12, 1936. The newspaper commissioned that work on migrant workers from the Midwest in California's agriculture industry. (It was later compiled and published separately.)
While writing the novel at his home, 16250 Greenwood Lane, in what is now Monte Sereno, California, Steinbeck had unusual difficulty devising a title. The Grapes of Wrath, suggested by his wife Carol Steinbeck, was deemed more suitable than anything by the author. The title is a reference to lyrics from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", by Julia Ward Howe:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
These lyrics refer, in turn, to the biblical passage Revelation 14:19–20, an apocalyptic appeal to divine justice and deliverance from oppression in the final judgment.
And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
The phrase also appears at the end of chapter 25 in The Grapes of Wrath which describes the purposeful destruction of food to keep the price high:
and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
The image invoked by the title serves as a crucial symbol in the development of both the plot and the novel's greater thematic concerns: from the terrible winepress of Dust Bowl oppression will come terrible wrath but also the deliverance of workers through their cooperation. This is suggested but not realized within the novel.
When preparing to write the novel, Steinbeck wrote: "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects]." He famously said, "I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags." This work won a large following among the working class due to Steinbeck's sympathy to the migrants and workers' movement, and his accessible prose style.
Steinbeck scholar John Timmerman sums up the book's influence: "The Grapes of Wrath may well be the most thoroughly discussed novel – in criticism, reviews, and college classrooms – of 20th century American literature." The Grapes of Wrath is referred to as a Great American Novel.
At the time of publication, Steinbeck's novel "was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read." According to The New York Times, it was the best-selling book of 1939 and 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940. In that month it won the National Book Award, favorite fiction book of 1939, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association. Soon it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The book was noted for Steinbeck's passionate depiction of the plight of the poor, and many of his contemporaries attacked his social and political views. Bryan Cordyack writes, "Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book's depiction of California farmers' attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a 'pack of lies' and labeled it 'communist propaganda'. Some accused Steinbeck of exaggerating camp conditions to make a political point. Steinbeck had visited the camps well before publication of the novel and argued their inhumane nature destroyed the settlers' spirit.
In 2005 Time magazine included the novel in its "TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005". In 2009, The Daily Telegraph of the United Kingdom included the novel in its "100 novels everyone should read". In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Grapes of Wrath tenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 1999, French newspaper Le Monde of Paris ranked The Grapes of Wrath as seventh on its list of the 100 best books of the 20th century. In the UK, it was listed at number 29 of the "nation's best loved novel" on the BBC's 2003 survey The Big Read.
The book was quickly made into a famed, 1940 Hollywood movie of the same name directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. The first part of the film version follows the book fairly accurately. However, the second half and the ending in particular are significantly different from the book. John Springer, author of The Fondas (Citadel, 1973), said of Henry Fonda and his role in film version of The Grapes of Wrath: "The Great American Novel made one of the few enduring Great American Motion Pictures."
The 2009 documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story revealed that The Grapes of Wrath was the favorite novel of the comedian Bill Hicks. He based his famous last words on Tom Joad's final speech: "I left in love, in laughter, and in truth, and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit."
American rock singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen named his eleventh studio album, The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995), after the character. The first track on the album is also called "The Ghost of Tom Joad". The song – and to a lesser extent, the other songs on the album – draws comparisons between the Dust Bowl and modern times.
The song "Dust Bowl Dance" by Mumford & Sons is based on the novel.
Bad Religion have a song entitled "Grains of Wraith" on their 2007 album, New Maps of Hell. Bad Religion lead vocalist, Greg Graffin is a fan of Steinbeck's.[better source needed][not in citation given]
An opera based on the novel was co-produced by the Minnesota Opera and Utah Symphony and Opera, with music by Ricky Ian Gordon and libretto by Michael Korie. The world premiere performance of the opera was given in February 2007, to favorable local reviews.
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company produced a stage version of the book, adapted by Frank Galati. Gary Sinise played Tom Joad for its entire run of 188 performances on Broadway in 1990. One of these performances was filmed and shown on PBS the following year.
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