This is one of the best books I have read in 2017. I have heard of Grapes of Wrath, book and movie for ages but I never read it until recently. I remember I have read Thinking Fast and Slowin which there is a discussion of whether it is true that "People generally more happy in warm California". The answer based on the result is negative and the author useGrapes of Wrath as one of the examples. One book leads me to another book--you can tell I never have to worry of "what to read next".
I love this book. I adore the style, the story, the character, the idea behind all these. I feel connected to the characters and I can see many answers of my doubt of revenue chasing and growth.
Steinbeck himself claimed to Pascal Covici on Jan 16, 1939:
...throughout I've tried to make the reader participate in the actuality, what he takes from it will be scaled entirely on his own depth or hollowness.
Yes, it is not just a story of a family moving west and struggle for survival. It is a story of migrants (I think I instantly identify this because I am a migrant myself ). It is a story of a nation, America, its "moving one step forward and half step back". It is about mankind's ultimate quest for meaning and "his commitment to his fellow man and to the earth he inhabits"(Louis Owens).
The most striking element I found is the style Steinbeck used.
His "particular" chapters are the slow-paced and lengthy narrative chapters that embody traditional characterization and advance the dramatic plot, while his jazzy, rapid-fire "interchapters" work at another level of recognition by expressing an atemporal, universal, synoptic view of the migrant condition. Those "interchapters" serve to halt the emotional slide toward sentimentality.
Similar style can be found in Moby Dick, but Steinbeck's is better. Without the interchapters, the story can be plain, boring and without meaning. The interchapters are not just "author jumping in to discuss and lay out his political ideas". Yes Steinbeck has his political tendency but are there any books have zero political inquiry or indication?
One of the intercharpters, which I want to discuss here, is focus on a land turtle.
The whole Chapter 3 is devoted to a land turtle, and its present continue to Chapter 6. I admire the detail description of how this turtle walked to the back of road and how he was picked up by Tom Joad and later released by him. You can see how deep and accurate of the description. Steinbeck must spend a considerable time observing a turtle! Though I like the details and did recognize the importance of the turtle theme, I don't understand the meaning and purpose of it until I finish the story.
The slow, determined, and could be painful movement of the turtle parallels in the way Joads and other migrants moving to west.
His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly through the grass, not really walking, but boosting and dragging his shell along.
(Does it sounds like Joads moving with a tired old truck?)
His horny beak was partly open, and his fierce, humorous eyes, under brows like fingernails, stared straight ahead.
(In this chapter, Steinbuck has mentioned 3 times of "humorous eyes"--1st "humorous eyes", then "old humorous frowning eyes", finally "old humorous eyes". There are couple times Steinbuck describes migrants' eyes, like "Joad's eyes were inward on his memory" and "Their eyes were inward and quiet, and their eyes, too, were lucent in the evening, lucent in dusty faces. The rhythmic repetition, has compelled us the reader to look into the eyes of an old turtle who looks more like human and the eyes of turmoiled migrants. By locking eye contact, we establish intimacy, we will draw closer to each other and recognize the same quality we shared as human being.)
For a moment the turtle rested. A red ant ran into the shell, into the soft skin inside the shell, and suddenly head and legs snapped in...the red ant was crushed between body and legs.
(Did the fierce red ant remind you of cops and people who hate and draw the migrants away? But ant was crushed, this may imply the elimination of migrates will never success? The oppressors may get crushed or may eventually has no better fate than the oppressed. Human being as a united body is doomed to pay for our misfortune.)
Tom spot and picked up the turtle very carelessly and wanted to give it to the kids as plaything. When he realized the house is empty and family has fleeted, he released the turtle as it has no use anymore. The way he treated the turtle,parallels in how migrants were treated by the big farmers. They were lured to the West, the promising land, golden California.They moving to one direction, even they were told the reality is far worse than they expected. They are like the old turtle, moving to south west without a logical reason. But once they get to the West, they are not needed or ill used by the big farmers. When the number of the migrants getting bigger, they are not needed anymore. Unlike turtle, they won't walk away silently by themselves, so violence was used to draw them away like flies.
In another perspective, when we dealing with other animals or earth itself, we never ponder the consequence, how it will be, what it will lead to, how other creatures would reacted. Same as when we deal with other human fellow or when we run the society, we seldom think about the cause and consequence, and never responsible for our action.
The way we treat animals, the earth, the nature, reflects the way we treat with each others and that determines how we would survive and live on planet Earth.
The Preacher said:
Nobody can't keep a turtle though. They work at it and work at it , and at last one day they get out and away they go--off somewhere.
This is a spirit of creature. In order to survive, we will move, rest, move, settle down, unsettled, move. So the migrant is unstoppable. The ill of government is not to response to change and blind to the reality. They want to get rid of the problem without attending the cause.
But as Stainbuck emphases first in Chapter 14 then in Chapter 26 via Casy the Preacher:
Every time they take a little step, they may slip back a little, but they never slips clear back...means they weren't waste even of it seemed like they were.
This can not only be applied to human advancement in history but to our individual live. America did make a lot of mistakes and suffer greatly. because of that But this can a good lesson and they learnt from it. Thus a better property right developed, union formed, food waste reduced etc.
To me, it is truly encouraging to think of every step I take won't be a waste. It makes me more courageous to act according to my own will and keep moving to a better future. I may fail, like most of migrants would fail in the story, but at least I have tried my best as human being would try for every chance of existence.
The end of the story isunorthodox and striking. Rose of Sharon gave birth to a dead baby and herself in a very bad shape. But to save another dying poor soul, she gave her milk to the old man in the barn. This is a rebellious version of Virgin Mary. Faith is good, god fearing may be alright in peace time but "it don't work no more". When human being is in trouble, we need to act and save ourselves. That is why Casy stop preaching, learn from poor people and lead the movement of strike. We, the human being, can't rely on prayers to wash off our troubles and sins but need to take responsibility of our own, to determine what we will become .