Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

I read this many years ago, but I only remember bits and pieces of it. When I saw it at a yard sale last spring, I bought it to read again. I'm glad I did. There are many gems in it.
On corporate, commercial farming: "Carbon is not a man, nor salt nor water nor calcium. He is all of these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is so much more than its analysis. ...that man who is more than his elements knows the land that is more than its analysis. But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry; and he is contemptuous of the land and of himself. When the corrugated iron doors are shut, he goes home and his home is not the land."

On the Dust Bowl migration along Route 66: "The people in flight streamed out on 66 .... All day they rolled slowly along the road, and at night they stopped near water. In the day ancient leaky radiators sent up columns of steam, loose connecting rods hammered and pounded. And the men driving the trucks and the overloaded cars listened apprehensively. How far between towns? It is a terror between towns. If something breaks - well, if something breaks we camp right here ...."

The people didn't leave because of the dust. They left because huge corporations bought the land from the owners. The people no longer owned the land their ancestors had settled. Years before, they had had to borrow against it and had been unable to pay their debts. Banks owned it. Land companies owned it. Sold it for profit, and drove the sharecropping tenants out. They had high hopes of a better life in California.

The above is a partial review; I hadn't finished it then. All I can say now is that it is a very deep, rich book. A disturbing, thought-provoking book. It was well worth reading again, I'm glad I did.

Okay, I have finished it, and actually gotten my old atlas of the United States and followed their journey through Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona, and into California! The town they started from, Sallisaw, OK is in the far eastern part of Oklahoma, near Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

The book told the story of the Joad family, and interspersed this with chapter-long essays on the economy of the nation, the dust bowl migration as a whole and its effect on the western states to which they migrated, and the attitudes and actions of the people they met along the way: auto dealers, who sold the "jalopies" they needed, owners and employees of gas stations and diners whom they approached for fuel, water, and even sometimes food, fellow travelers with whom they camped on the sides of roads, campground managers, sheriffs and state police. This slowed the pace somewhat, but it helped in my understanding of the immensity of the entire situation.

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