The Grapes of Wrath-2023

There aren’t too many books that I have re-read in my lifetime, but today I finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. By far he is my favorite author. He makes me see the characters, and the places he writes about with amazing clarity. His writing style is what made me read this book a second time. It has probably been forty years in between, but I still remember the story, and yet I enjoyed it more this time than I did the first. I doubly enjoyed his descriptions of the time and the sadness of the tale.

The Grapes of Wrath has so many messages such as: the effect of weather forcing a mass migration, the desperation of poor people, the strength of family, the will to live, the shame of accepting government help in extreme poverty, the effect of starvation on health, the rejection by the communities that were affected by the influx. The list goes on. Steinbeck tells the history of the era in great detail. He was born in an agricultural valley in central California and most likely witnessed the people streaming into the region looking for work. He understood the attitudes of agricultural workers forming unions, and the land owners fighting to protect their properties. It is a scary time and a sad time because the differences between the people could be likened to the differences between North and South in the Civil War. In this case the land owners against those who don’t own land.

Most of the migrants came from Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Most were share croppers. They didn’t own land but rented the land and the rent payment was a share of the crop they produced. When the global warming of the nineteen thirties hit the plains and water dried up the land turned to dust. The winds blew the dust away from the farms and destroyed them. Crops were lost, lives went bankrupt. Bankers foreclosed on the sharecroppers and the landowners sold to corporate farms. The tiny farms of twenty and forty acres that once provided sustenance for families became massive company farms tilled by modern tractors on thousands of acres to provide a return on investment. People be damned, it was up to them to move on, and to provide for themselves. Had the migration moved slower, and the people who left to find jobs did so in a trickle things might have been different. The combination of weather killing crops and corporations buying the land to make money fast caused the migration to happen rather suddenly. It is estimated that two hundred and fifty thousand people were displaced from their farms in one summer, and the majority moved to California to find jobs as pickers. They moved in old junky cars and trucks bought from charlatan dealers who raided junk yards for inventory and sold the vehicles to desperate people who needed to find work.

The current situation in the United States is not much different, except the migrants aren’t coming across the state line, but across the border from starving Central America, or they are refugees displaced by war. They come by the thousands because they have seen the promise of the United States. What hasn’t changed much is our attitude toward the intruders. In modern America, those coming in are not coming in junky jalopies that barely run, they walk in, and our government uses buses or airplanes to transport them all across the country to unsuspecting cities where they are let loose to fend for themselves. In some cases the receiving city puts them into unoccupied hotels, until more suitable housing can be found.

This book was first published in 1939 and the story closely relates to the current conditions in the USA. Does this mean that we have not solved a single worldwide social problem since then? Why are we paying all the exorbitant taxes? Where does the money go? One place it goes is to fuel the salaries of all the degreed people working for all the bureaucracies invented to deal with social problems like homelessness, starvation, etc.. Then there are those people who work diligently to expand those services. I often wonder how many staff people we employ to handle a single poor person.


In the new emigration the people’s wants are similar to those of the thirties. Most seek only employment so they can better themselves. They aren’t really coming here to go on welfare, they want to make their own way by working. The people who do go on welfare are those who are born here, and are too lazy to take the low paying jobs that immigrants are willing to do. What the impact will be on the USA is that the influx of immigrants will lower the standard of living for everyone.

I didn’t expect this book report to turn into my ranting about society and the ills of big government, but it did, and I am sorry for that, but now that it is in type I must post my thoughts and opinions.

What Does it Mean?

What does it  mean when you finally do something that has been on your to-do list for fifty years?

Earlier this summer, I spoke with my granddaughter and asked what she was going to do with her summer. She is an avid reader. She announced her intention to read all the books on her school recommended reading list.

“What are some of the books?” I asked

She rattled off several that didn’t register but then struck a chord with “East of Eden.” I am a John Steinbeck fan and have always intended to read that book. I never did, until now.

Why I put it off so long, I cannot answer, but the wait was worth it. Steinbeck has a beautiful style of writing. His characters are so real, I feel I know them personally. He describes the  locales in such a way as to see, smell, and hear the surroundings.

In the early chapters of the book, I kept thinking this sounds like something I have read before. The people and places were so familiar. As the pages rolled by I realized that I had not read this particular story before, but I had read several other Steinbeck stories. All of them take place in the same valley  near Salinas, California. He had to have borrowed some of the same characters for his novel.

East Of Eden is a complicated story that spans three generations of families, and it would take me the same six hundred pages to tell it. I love the period the story is from, i.e. 1875-1925. Life was hard then, but so much purer, yet so much more decadent at the same time. Steinbeck’s depiction of the era is historically accurate. His characters fall into the categories of good and evil. He describes how evilness is a trait a person is born with just as he might be born with a physical defect. Why not a defect in the brain that makes one inherently evil?

Thank you Dana for triggering me to read this book. Now, I am anxious to see the movie. In my mind, I have determined which generation I would have made the movie about. The movie will be higher on my to-do list, and not take fifty years to get to. I wish we could watch it together.