The Grapes of Wrath Part II: What the What?

#3 The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Published:
1939
More Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged: 
It was challenged in Greenville, South Carolina schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a “vain and profane manner, along with inappropriate sexual references.”
My Rating: ¢20 pay for a ¢30 job

Last post, I had read the first 250 pages of The Grapes of Wrath and things didn’t go well.  Reading 250 pages of snoozefest, I was not looking forward to what was ahead of me. And good god.  I feel like I should have won a medal, or gotten a cookie or something for finishing it.  Because it’s a whopper.  And first thing’s first, I have decided to rename John Steinbeck as Debbie Downer.

asvdsaef

The Joads had finally made it to California, and no one knew what their future held.  Right when the Joads crossed into California, they stop by the Colorado River, cool off, and run into more people heading back east with horror stories of what California actually has to offer.  Ma is the first to experience someone calling her an “Okie” and it really brings everyone down.  The guy tells them they have to leave soon, and they’re all, “Yeah, you got it, we’re going.”  But Noah Joad has such a wonderful time on the riverside that he decided that he is going to live there instead, completely abandoning the family.

So let’s get a quick tally of the Joads:
Granpa Joad
 stroked out
Granma Joad
Pa Joad
Ma Joad
Uncle John Joad
Noah Joad turns into Huck Finn and runs away
Tom Joad
Rose of Sharon Joad-Rivers
Connie Rivers
Al Joad
Ruthie and Winfield Joad
Preacher Casey

When they get into town, the cops stop them at a checkpoint.  Ma tells the men that they don’t have time to waste, because Granma is very, very sick.  One of the cops shine a light on her, and is all, “Eww, gross.  Yeah, go ahead.”  After driving for a couple hours, they stop for a break.  That’s when Ma breaks it to them that Granma had been dead long before the checkpoint.  But to make sure the cops allowed them to cross, Ma had lied down and slept with Granma’s body.  For like, hours.

I will say that Ma Joad is by far, the most amazing character in this book.  Her husband has lost everything, and has no idea what to do with himself now.  Her brother-in-law is a drunk who is incapable of anything, and her pregnant daughter is whining every ten minutes about her pregnancy.  But Ma Joad is like, “Suck it up, errbody.  We have nothing left behind us, so we have to move forward.”  She is constantly kicking the men’s asses in gear, and doing her damnedest to keep the family together.  Hell.  Yes.  Ma.  Joad.

They get into a Hooverville and all I can say is that it’s bleak.  People are starving and dirty, they can’t find work anywhere, and Ma Joad is trying to make stew while children of the corn surround her, begging for food.  And then, at one point, a cop looking for workers comes in and tries hustling them.  One guy starts a bit of a tussle and Tom tries to calm it down, but instead he trips the cop and clobbers him with his billy club.  Yes, Tom Joad who a) just got out of prison for killing a guy and then b) left Oklahoma which is breaking his parole.  That guy decided to get in a fight.  Casey takes the fall for him, and tells Tom and Al to go hide by the water until the cops leave.  As Al and Tom are laying low by the river, they witness Connie running away from the camp.

Rose of Sharon is in the car/hut/trailer/whatever it is they sleep in and talking to her mom about how Connie is going to go to school, and learn how to fix radios, and they are going to have a wonderful life together.  But when Tom and Al come back and tell her that he ran away from her faster than a frat boy with a peen that burns, she becomes even more of a whiney little girl than she already was.

Granpa Joad stroked out
Granma Joad hallucinates to death next to sleeping Ma
Pa Joad
Ma Joad
Uncle John Joad
Noah Joad turns into Huck Finn and runs away
Tom Joad
Rose of Sharon Joad-Rivers
Connie Rivers pussies out
Al Joad
Ruthie and Winfield Joad
Preacher Casey

The Joads peace out of that hobotown and decide to chance going to a government camp, which has nice housing, flushing toilets, Saturday night dances, and absolutely no cops allowed.  The “Okies” living there make their own rules, elect their own officials, and live in peace.  And even though it’s a great place, big farm owners hate the fact that these workers are making their own decisions, and acting like equals.

And I totally get it where the Californians are coming from.  I mean, how dare these people act like people, want to be treated like people, and respected as people.  How dare they move from their homes which were taken from them, look for work so they can support their families, and ask for equal wages.  They are obviously in the wrong.  And these Californians will stop at nothing to make sure these damn Okies get out of their lands.

The Californians are so awful, that they tried to plot a riot at the government party, which gives police the okay to enter the camps.  Thankfully, good ol’ Tom Joad was able to help and found the people who were sent to make trouble.  But even though the camp is super awesome, work is almost impossible to find.  So the Joads pack up again and decide to head for a peach farm that will be looking for workers soon.

The peach farm they go to is owned by a wealthy man who also owns the cannery, which somehow allows him to be really cheap with wages.  I don’t completely get the politics of it, but the big, rich farmers are able to set the prices, making small farm owners have no choice to lower them as well.   I will say that during one of the poetic, literary chapters, Steinbeck describes how rich farm owners are so set on not hiring workers, that they even let their crops spoil and go bad, just so they don’t have to pay for the help; and it was actually really heartbreaking to read.  I was so upset that I had to take a timeout from reading it on the train.  It is also where we get the famous “grapes of wrath” quote from:

and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

Apparently, the Joads lack common sense because every basket of unbruised peaches they pick, add up to 5 cents, and if there is one bruised then the whole basket is null and void.  But Tom is slamming peaches around, pouring them into buckets, and just not treating the poor little peaches very nicely.  So when a head picker tells him that his batch is useless, they all have to dump out their baskets and start again.

Tom also discovers that the reason the price for picking peaches is so good (according to them, cause 5 cents a basket is decent) because good ol’ Casey and other workers are on strike.  The peach farmer wanted to pay them two and a half cents per bucket, which you can’t make a living on.  But while Tom and Casey reunite, the cops try to break up the strike.  One guy even bashes Casey in the skull with a pickaxe, and kills him.  And Tom is so pissed that he then beats the guy to death — after someone else gets a few good shots at him.  Tom’s face is all cut up, and people are looking for him, so he now has no choice but to hide.

The Joads leave another camp, and find a new place to work at a cotton farm.  But they have to keep Tom hidden, in a bunker by the river, away from camp.  The Joads then start a routine of going to work, getting good money, and walking a hot meal to Tom until his face gets better and they can leave again.  But little Ruthie blabs to some people that her brother had already killed two people, and Ma tells Tom that is he going to have to leave.  Tom tells her that he has decided to give his life to finishing what Casey started, and getting unions started for workers.  So we have now lost our protagonist of The Grapes of Wrath.

Al also finds himself a girl, and Rose of Sharon stops being so awful.  But she does go into labor early, and unfortunately births a stillborn.  And while she is in labor, it’s flooding in the workers’ camp.  So the women are all with Rose of Sharon, while the men are trying to dig trenches so the water stops flooding their homes.  Needless to say, it doesn’t work very well and Ma, Pa, Uncle John, Ruthie, and Winfield (who is still a boy) search for higher ground.  Al says he cannot leave his new missus, and promises to find them later.

Granpa Joad stroked out
Granma Joad hallucinates to death next to sleeping Ma
Pa Joad
Ma Joad
Uncle John Joad
Noah Joad turns into Huck Finn and runs away
Tom Joad fists of fury gets him in trouble
Rose of Sharon Joad-Rivers
Connie Rivers pussies out
Al Joad engaged for a day and already whipped
Ruthie and Winfield Joad
Preacher Casey pickaxe to the skull

Now Rose of Sharon just gave birth to — and lost — a child the night before.  And she is expected to walk around, and sometimes even run, for higher, drier land.  She is weak.  She is tired.  She is not freaking out.  She and Ma are the ones helping keep the men sane.  And when they find a barn, they head there for safety.  Inside, they find a little boy with his very weak, very hungry, very much so dying father.

And Rose of Sharon and Ma look at each other with knowing looks on their faces.  Rose of Sharon says that yes, she can, and asks everyone but the dying man to leave.  She then walks over to him, gives him her breast, and offers it to him as the only thing they can do to help him.  He accepts, and she smiles with a mysterious glint of knowing in her eye.

THE END.

Yeah, that’s the end.  I finished in the middle of an escalator ride, closed the book, looked up, and thought very loudly in my head, “What the fuck?”  I have no idea how exactly I feel about this book.  It was so slow in the beginning, so interesting around the end, and then it just stopped.  It was done.  And I still had no idea what to think.  All I know is that I need a break from the classics.

Want to read along with me?
Check out the Banned Books Challenge page to see my progress!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The Grapes of Wrath Part II: What the What?

  1. Brilliant! You’re first paragraph had me all, “those people are retarded! I’m gonna read this book now! Just to piss those retards off!” And then you went into the plot and reminded me how slow John Steinbeck was, and I was like, ‘wow… I’m… yeah, uh… I’m retarded,’

  2. No kidding. I would be reading it and thinking, “And nothing is happening, nothing is happening, nothing is happening. WAIT SOMETHING IS HAPPENING?! Oh, no. Nothing happened.”

    I read The Pearl when I was in high school, and that was a short story. I think I liked it… So not sure what to think of Steinbeck. Except he is still Debbie Downer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s