As a blogger, a part of me always feels a teensy bit bad when I’m participating in a readalong because that means at least 4 spoiler-filled posts that I know most of my readers are probably skipping over. So, here’s a review of The Grapes of Wrath, post-readalong and non-spoilery.
The Grapes of Wrath is set during the Great Depression, and focuses on The Joads, an Oklahoma family of farmers who have been suffering the effects of drought and what is now known as the Dust Bowl phenomenon. The Joads’ crops have been doing badly for at least a couple of years now, and they had taken loans out from the bank to get by – at the start of the book, the bank is calling in its loan and kicks the Joads off their land. Homeless and without much else to do, when they hear about California needing workers on farms they pack all of their possessions into a truck and head West.
So, that’s as much as I should really say without getting too spoilery. John Steinbeck followed a unique format in this book – one chapter would be kind of “here’s the big picture” type of chapter, giving us glimpses to the situation on a larger scale, and one chapter would be specifically about the Joads, and for the most part if alternated like that. On the one hand, I liked this – it was nice to see those other glimpses, and sometimes those shorter chapters were really beautiful and well-written. On the other hand, I feel like Steinbeck really would have been better off skipping those chapters and focusing completely on the Joads, because there was definitely a lack of character development. By the end of the book, I didn’t feel a whole lot for the Joads because I felt disconnected from them through most of the book, and some of them didn’t have much of a personality fleshed out.
Steinbeck also uses this book to kind of beat you over the head with his anger and political feelings during the time that he wrote it – you can very visibly see his anger towards the banks, businessmen, and others – even if it always isn’t quite clear why. Because of all of this, I ended up going online periodically through reading to look up things about the time era, the culture, the Dust Bowl, John Steinbeck himself, etc. And my copy of the book is now filled with underlines, notes in the margins, and sticky notes. While I disagree with Steinbeck on quite a few points, I love it when I can get that into a book.
I’m really having trouble trying to rate this book. Part of me feels that as a novel, it should have been better written and the Joads should have been given more character. But part of me also knows that his whole purpose in writing this book was to expose what he saw as the ugly truth and causes of the Great Depression, and the uprooting of millions of people. I really did enjoy kind of critiquing the book myself as we read it, and researching things. I liked that I ended up talking to a ton of people about this book as I read it, in real life and in the readalong. I like books that make me think. And despite most of the characters being really two-dimensional, I LOVED Ma. She’s definitely one of the best mother figures in literature.
Sarah Says: 3.5 stars