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Old 09-19-2014, 12:01 PM   #1
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September 2014 Discussion: The Grapes of Wrath (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the September 2014 MobileRead Book Club selection, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. What did you think?
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Old 09-19-2014, 12:07 PM   #2
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Of all the characters in the book, I think I liked Rose of Sharon the least. She was so immature; so unwilling to face reality as it was. I had little sympathy for the way she was so easily dismayed by the religious fanatic who threatened her child with death and how she was so wrapped up in her own situation that she seemingly had little concern for Tom's or anyone else's. Yet in the final moments of the book, that brave and selfless action she took in the barn fully vindicated her character in my eyes. At a time when I had fully expected her to wallow in pity and give voice to all the doom-saying of the fanatic, she instead saw a stranger in trouble and came to his aid. Putting aside any thoughts of social conventions, she courageously went forward and did what needed to be done. That was a remarkable ending. I'm not so sure about the mysterious smile, though. Could it have been because she she now saw a divine purpose in everything she had been through?
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Old 09-20-2014, 07:56 AM   #3
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An interesting read. One thing I didn't particularly care for was the every other chapter diatribes. They were interesting/helpful in that they gave a little background, but for me, they took me out of the story.

In the age of texting and the internet, this made me smile: IITYWYBAD.
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Old 09-20-2014, 03:46 PM   #4
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September 2014 Discussion: The Grapes of Wrath (spoilers)

I loved the small chapters detailing what life was like for the migrant farm workers. It didn't take me out of the story at all.

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Old 09-20-2014, 04:06 PM   #5
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Last night I watched the 1940 movie version starring Henry Fonda as Tom Jode. I was wondering how they were going to do the ending in a 1940 film. If Clark Gable could shock audiences of the era with his "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" line, how was John Ford going to handle a teenager breast feeding an old man?

Spoiler:
... By changing the ending, that's how. Remember that line in chapter 28 where ma talks about how man lives in fits and spurts but life for a woman is more like a stream? They build on that line and where in the book ma ends that conversation by saying "We ain't gonna die out," the movie ends with her talking about how the rich come and go but "We're the people who live."


The movie was pretty good, and certainly captured the spirit of the book, even if there were quite a few changes and omissions from what John Steinbeck wrote.
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Old 09-20-2014, 05:00 PM   #6
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This book was at the top of my list for "worst book that I had to read in high-school." I remember it was long, boring and a very painful read! However I was determined to give it another chance from an adult's perspective. For the first 3 chapters I had urges to throw my Kindle across the room, but I forced myself to keep going. In the end I really liked it! I think as a teenager I didn't have enough appreciation of history or enough life experiences to empathize with the characters. I loved the inter-chapters that seemed lyrical in prose and how the book alternated between the big picture and the Joad family.

I also read and highly recommend The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. National Book Award winner for Nonfiction in 2006. Available at Kindle Unlimited, Oyster and Overdrive libraries.
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Old 09-20-2014, 08:43 PM   #7
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The first thing that strikes me about this book is the same as when read it as a teen (a looong time ago) in a French translation: the writing is so intensely visual. I am not a visual person at all, and descriptions in books typically confuse me, yet I had no problem seeing in my eye's mind what each character look like -- even as an extremely secondary character as the truck driver in the first chapter for example -- or landscapes, or even every day objects.

The second thing is that I wasn't a political animal at all at 15, and the description of the level of suffering a human being can inflict to other human beings for profit was a punch in the gut. I am now a bit more seasoned about it, but for example the scheme of printing of way more flyers than necessary to attract desperate workers in order to push down wages still filled me with rage. I find it's a very powerful demonstration of the necessity of unions and labour laws..

Third thing is that while men tend to be realistic, three-dimensional characters with flesh on, women tend to be only defined only by their function (what they do for men) or to be mere stereotypes. I found this disappointing.

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Old 09-21-2014, 02:28 PM   #8
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September 2014 Discussion: The Grapes of Wrath (spoilers)

Does everyone else always read the footnotes? I found this one interesting:

Quote:
To say, “So-and-So5 was at the table next to us at the Trocadero. She’s really a mess, but she does wear nice clothes.’’ And he, “I talked to good sound business men out there. They don’t see a chance till we get rid of that fellow in the White House.” And, “I got it from a man in the know—she has syphilis, you know—she was in that Warner picture. Man said she’d slept her way into pictures. Well, she got what she was looking for.’’ But the worried eyes are never calm, and the pouting mouth is never glad. The big car cruising along at sixty.
Footnote:

Quote:
5 So-and-So: In The Grapes of Wrath typescript (p. 248), Steinbeck used the name of a real movie star, Joan Crawford (1908-1977), but later changed it to this far more innocuous and less libelous reference.
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Old 09-21-2014, 03:03 PM   #9
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For some reason I seam to really be on a different page than most with our last few reads. I loved The Dispossessed, but really did not like this book.

I started off by liking it, particularly the beautiful way the Steinbeck described the relationship between people and the land the live on and work. That "ownership" isn't necessarily the powerful catalyst to bonding than work is. I loved that and felt that it could have been developed into a more consistent theme. After the first few of the descriptive chapters they just became boring, like Steinbeck himself became disinterested. It felt to me like he was so committed to the concept that he just kept plodding along with decreasingly interesting or relevant things to say.

Worse for me was the never-ending repetitive dialogues and drawn out scenes throughout the narrative chapters. I actually like long, intricate books; this just got redundant and dull for me. I know this perhaps is a little unfair, given the era in which the book was written, but wouldn't it have been nice for the characters to step out of their gender stereotypes in terms of role and character just a little? This just wore me down.

And I didn't like the ending. Possibly more on this later.
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Old 09-21-2014, 05:01 PM   #10
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I enjoyed the book in general. I thought there could have been a little more resolution in the ending. The chapters relating the "newspaper heading" type narrative gave context to the story, but became a little tiresome. The manner of speech took some getting used to. Ma was my favourite character as I felt she was the strongest and the only one actively trying to keep the family together. I liked that there were uplifting characters and situations sprinkled throughout the book instead of the story containing all desolation and then having a heart-lifting ending. The story was about the strength (and weakness) of the human spirit and I felt that was what was conveyed.
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Old 09-30-2014, 02:29 PM   #11
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The Grapes of Wrath has been criticised for being too sentimental and having Communistic overtones. Yes, there is a certain sentiment in this book but it is hardly a serious problem. In fact it may be necessary to leaven the darkness that pervades much of it.

As to being "Communist", one can hardly take that seriously as a literary criticism of this novel. Steinbeck does show the violence of the establishment forces, but if one examines the social history of the depression years then perhaps a good bit of the bitterness in the book's portrayal of a police force that was seen as the brutal weapon of a wealthy establishment may be understandable--if extreme. Consider the horrible shanty towns called "Hoovervilles" that existed during the Thirties. The worker population was depressed and despised. The Dust Bowl was awful. Steinbeck is simply writing in the tradition of Mark Twain when he shows the suffering of an underclass. He is not concerned with an economic theory; he is concerned with a human reality.

I'm not sure that Jim Casey is really a convincing figure but Ma Joad is brilliantly conceived.

I read this book some decades ago but I found it much more satisfying and significant this time around.
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Old 09-30-2014, 04:43 PM   #12
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Yes, Steinbeck wasn't unrealistic in his portrayal of the way that police often served the wealthy. On Memorial Day in 1937, the Chicago police killed 10 people and injured more than a hundred more during a demonstration by strikers and their families in the Republic Steel strike (William Manchester "The Glory and the Dream").
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Old 09-30-2014, 04:46 PM   #13
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Ma Joad is brilliantly conceived
She's a stereotype in every way. There are many brilliantly conceived characters in literature, but I just don't see anything but ordinary in Ma Joad.
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Old 10-01-2014, 01:26 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by ccowie View Post
She's a stereotype in every way. There are many brilliantly conceived characters in literature, but I just don't see anything but ordinary in Ma Joad.
One can see her that way, I'm sure, but personally, I think she goes well beyond a simple stereotype. She is inspirational and she has agency.

In The Dusty Shelf, Michael Shaler defends her thus:

http://www.thedustyshelf.com/1-5/joad.php

I must confess, too, that I am influenced by the moving and much admired performance of her character given by Jane Darwell in the 1940 film.

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Old 10-01-2014, 01:49 PM   #15
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I love this book. It is one of my all-time top favorites, if not my number one top favorite novel. Steinbeck is amazing! I too love the alternating 'descriptive' chapters. It parallels exactly the story of the land and the people enduring, persevering.

Here is one of the things he said about it:

"I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the
Great Depression and its effects]."
- John Steinbeck about The Grapes of Wrath

a couple of my favorite quotes from the novel:

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to
strengthen and knit the repressed.
- John Steinbeck

There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.
- John Steinbeck

"No, You're wrong there--quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It
happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it.
The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it,
but they can't control it."
-- John Steinbeck from The Grapes of Wrath

Last edited by kennyc; 10-01-2014 at 01:57 PM.
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