About the Book

A lot has been said about the Grapes of Wrath by scholars, writers and critics. In 1994, Gale Research published a book for young adults. I would like to share some excerpts from the book:

Joseph Warren Beach made two warnings about the American economy: “that our system of production and finance involves innumerable instances of cruel hardship and injustice; that it needs constant adjustment and control by people in authority.”

Alfred Kazin noted that this comment is balanced by Steinbeck’s “refreshing belief in human fellowship and courage.” Beach adds that The Grapes of Wrath marked Steinbeck as “one who feels strongly on the subject of man’s essential dignity of spirit and his unexhausted possibilities for modification and improvement.” (Gale Research, 1994).

 On a personal note, I enjoyed reading a great book and a great author and I hope you did too.

Courtesy of Massimo Carboni  – Soundtrack by Pink, “Dear Mr President” (Instrumental Version)

John Steinbeck in Jack Kerouac Alley

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 1:15 am  Comments (3)  
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Chapter 30

The rain keeps falling down and Rose of Sharon is down with a cold, feverish.

 Al and Aggie want to be on their own and leave, but Pa ask them to stay around until they settle themselves. Who is going to take care of the truck if they go?

 As Rose of Sharon goes into labor, the men frantically work with shovels to keep the water away from the camp. When the dike collapses, the men run and try to save the truck. Water is everywhere.

 Rose of Sharon delivers a stillborn child. Uncle John takes the baby in an apple box and sets the box in the stream, to be a witness of what migrants are enduring: “Go down an’ tell ’em. That’s the way you can talk. Go on down now, an’ lay in the street. Maybe they’ll know then”.

 Water now is creeping up, forcing them to move themselves and their things in a high pile. The next day, Ma decides to move and find a dry place. As Ma, Rose of Sharon, Ruthie, Winfield and Pa walk along the freeway, they find a barn. As a torrential rain falls on them, they finally get in the barn, and find a man and a boy there. The man has not eaten for six days, and he is starving and the son cries because his dad is starving to death.

Ma takes her daughter’s wet clothes off of her and folds a dry comfort around her. Then she looks at her daughter and they look deep into each other’s eyes.

 And Rose of Sharon smiles mysteriously as she lays down, bares her breast, supports the starving man’s head, and offers him her life saving milk.

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Chapter 29

Winter came  in the camp and the “gray clouds marched in from the ocean. The wind blew fiercely and silently, high in the air, and it swished in the brush, and it roared in the forests”.

 The water first quenched the earth’s thirst, but soon the earth was full. The water formed puddles around the camps. The streams became filled with raging waters, cutting out the roots of trees and spilling over fields, orchards, cotton fields, and highways.

 Camp under Rain 

Migrants’ despair intensifies during the long wet season, as they try to stay dry, as months go by without work, as children cry with hunger, and as sickness comes.

 Some of the men go to the relief offices, without success: “You got to be here a year before you can git relief”.

And boys and men started to beg for food, beg for relief, tried to steal, stole, lied. And the sheriffs swore new deputies and ordered new rifles because now pity for the migrants changed into fear.

 And the migrant women watched the men, as “fear went from their faces, and anger took its place.” “The break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath”.

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Chapter 28

The Joad family moved into a boxcar: “they made good houses, water-tight and draftless.” Two families can live in a car,  and the Joads share one with the Wainwrights.

Box Car 

 There is some work in the cotton fields, and Ma is able to buy the family some clothes and cook some of the food they like; pork chops, boiling beef, milk, and syrup. Ma even buys a box of Cracker Jack for the children: “Winfield and Ruthie worked so good in the fields!”.

 As children try to steal their treat, Ruthie threatens that her brother will kill their big brothers, that he “already kil’t two fellas”.

Ma thinks that her son is in danger again. As she brings food to Tom, hidden in bushes along the river, she gives him some money and asks him to go. She explains that people will talk, and it is becoming dangerous for him to stay. Tom knows already that his time has come.

 Tom has the time to think, all by himself, and like Casy told him, he tells Ma: “Well, a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big on, an’ then,  it don’ matter. Then I’ll be around in the dark. I’ll be ever’where, wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever the’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there”. Tom is following in Casy’s foot steps.

They simply say good-by and walk away.

 On her way back to the camp, Ma meets a cotton grower. He has twenty acres of cotton to pick. Ma says: “ We’ll be there in the mornin”.

 Life goes on at the camp, as Al announces the family that he wants to marry the Wainwrigh’s daughter, Aggie.

 Rose of Sharon insists on doing some cotton picking with them the next day. At the crack of dawn, they drive to the ranch, only to find the barnyard full of cars and people ready to start picking already. There will not be work for everyone, and work will not even last the entire day.

 “They raced at the picking, raced against time and cotton weight, raced against the rain and against each other, only so much cotton to pick, only so much money to be made”.

 After all the cotton is picked, they come back to the boxcar. Rain is pouring down and Rose of Sharon is shivering from the cold. The men gather wood for the fire and the famile huddles together around its warmth, listening to the rain.

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Chapter 27

Steinbeck, as a reporter and witness and before he even wrote the “Grapes of Wrath”, spent a long time traveling to the migrants’s roadside camps in Kern County. He also toured Arvin Camp, a federally funded migrant camp near Bakersfield (this camp still exists and is used by migrant workers today). While at the camp, Steinbeck gathered valuable information and insights into the migrants’ life, reading camp manager Tom Collins’ reports of the migrants’ suffering and misfortune, and speaking to destitute migrants. Collins was in fact the Resettlement Administration staff member assigned to go with Steinbeck, as they toured several migrant camps. 

 “Fingers go right to it”…”Fingers know…”Inquisitive fingers snick in and out and find the bolls. Hardly have to look”…”Bet I could pick cotton if I was blind.”

Cotton Pickers

Cotton pickers do know their job and do it quickly and efficiently. But there is hardly enough work for all cotton pickers. Families have the young ones work with them, to earn as much as possible. After all, they are paid by weight: “Sometimes he’s right, you got rocks in the sack. Sometimes you’re right, the scales is crooked. Sometimes both; rocks and crooked scales. Always argue, always fight”.

Steinbeck points out a common problem in agriculture, the excessive depletion of soil nutrients by poor agricultural practices. Growing cotton depletes the soil and cotton growers would rather rent the land, grow the cotton and leave, rather than doing crop rotation.

 Winter is coming, and the migrant families know that they have to save some money to survive the winter, the time of the year where there are no crops, and no harvesting work.

 But how can you save money when fifty people work and there are five hundred other people waiting to work? In the fields, men are already fighting for rows, frantically working to get to the next row first.

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Chapter 26

One month has gone by since the Joads arrived at the WeedPatch Camp. Except the five days Tom worked, there has been no other work.

 Ma steps in: “We got to do somepin.”  She adds: “I ain’t watchin’ this here fambly starve no more.”  Once again, Ma proves to be the strong one, the decision maker, the one who outrages them to keep them moving forward. Pa complains: “Seems like the man ain’t got no say no more. She’s just a heller. Come time we get settled down, I’m gonna smack her.” She replies: “Come that time, you can…”

 Ma still finds time for love and tenderness as she offers Rose of Sharon her gold earrings.

 Bartering her way out of the camp, ignoring her family’s cries of hunger as she saves money for gas, she pulls and pushes them to keep moving.

 On the road, they find work picking peaches, but fear starts to creep up when they arrive at the camp, with armed guards at the gate and in the compound, and angry strikers outside the gate.

 Wages are lowered from five cents for a full box to two cents and half, as hundreds of new hungry migrants arrive at the camp.

 During a night stroll outside the camp,Tom is briefly reunited with Casy. Casy tells Tom how he has come to understand prisoners: “What made ‘em bad was that they needed stuff. It’s need that makes all the trouble”. The reunion is short lived as Casy get struck and killed by a police officer. Tom strikes back and kills the officer. Back to the camp, wounded himself,  he tells Ma that he dos not want to cause them trouble and that he is leaving them. Ma insists that he stays with them, they need him to keep the family together. Ma hides Tom under a matress as they leave the camp.

 As they drive in the night, they see a sign “Cotton Pickers Wanted”. They stop and settle for the night, and Tom goes in hiding next by, until his wounds heal and he does not look suspicious any more.

Cotton Pickers Wanted


Chapter 25

 “Then the first tendrils of the grapes, swelling from the old gnarled vines, cascade down to cover the trunks.” If Steinbeck is a great writer of human condition, he is also a poet who describes the glory of the Californian orchards in bloom, the development of the buds into beautiful  fruits.

Heavy Grapes

It has been a good year for the big and little farmers: “The year is heavy with produce.” Their knowledge of the land, their skills at selectionning seeds and at grafting and their patience are bearing fruits. There is a surplus of everything: grapes, oranges, peaches, plums, cherries, potatoes. But they have no buyers. The economic crash created unemployment on a big scale, curving down the demand for goods.  

 Big owners dump their crops in the river, on the roads. As hungry migrants come to rescue what is being dumped, the big farmers spread the fruits and vegetables with kerosene or burn them. Goods have to be bought or destroyed to keep up the price. These are the rules of the market. This is “the saddest, bitterest thing of all”. Starving children are getting disease or dying from malnutrition, and the big farmers are destroying what could save them.  

 A crime, a sorrow, a failure. This is what Steinbeck describes as happening in California.

As fruits are left to rot, the financial outcome will be different for the big and the small farmers. Big farmers also own canneries and they can process part of the harvest by canning it. The only thing small farmers can do is watch their debt growing, knowing that, next year, their orchard will be part of a greater holding.

 “In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

Chapter 24

Tonight at the camp, excitement is in the air. Everyone is getting ready for the Saturday dance, young and old, dancers, musicians and the ones just watching and enjoying themselves. People from other camps are invited as well.

 Ingeniously, the men managed to make a light system for the dance floor, out of bits of electric wire, friction tap and bottle necks, for protection.

 The Central Committee gathered to discuss the news : they have heard about trouble makers joining them and starting a riot. The Committee recruited more men for the evening, to keep their eyes and ears open, ready to intervene if they see any sign of agitation. They want to keep things under control. They know that a riot would give deputies a chance to eventually close the camp. The deputies are watching them outside the gates…waiting for the riot.

 The men know they are seen by locals as taking away from them when receiving relief “what us taxpayers put in an’ goddamn Oakies take out.“  A little man will answer back to them, arguing that they pay taxes on sales, gas, tobacco. He adds that farmers, railroads and shipping companies draw subsidies from the government, therefore getting relief as they do.

 Hmmmmmm…this sounds familiar.

 Sadly enough, the trouble makers are migrant themselves, doing it for money, and the squad will ask them : “Don’t knife your own folks. We’re tryin’ to get along, havin’ fun an’ keepin’ order. Don’t tear all that down. Jes’ think about it. You’re jes’ harmin’ yourself.“

 After the agitators are sent back over the fence, to disappear into the night, the risk of riot is over and there is no reason for the deputies to stay.

 The squad goes back to the dance floor and “Ol’ Dan Tucker“ is playing. The migrant men danced far into the night.

Dancing at the Camp

Chapter 23

In their flight to start a new life, the migrant people have their days filled with job search, travel and the challenges of folks on the go. When they would settle for the night, they “looked humbly for pleasure on the roads.”

They listened to folktales, stories and legends: “The storytellers spoke in great words because their tales were great, and the listeners became great thru them.”

There is the story of this Injun Indian that stood on a ridge, arms spread out, immobile, within reach of soldiers’ guns. No one wanted to shoot him, he looked so grand. When finally he is shot, by the captain’s order, he is torn to pieces, just like a cock pheasant. I like the way Steinbeck describes what happens when you destroy something so beautiful. They were bloody and twisted “an’ you spoiled somepin better’s n you…you spoiled somepin in yaself, an’ you can’t never fix it up”.

They sometimes chose pleasure over food and went to see movies. Back to the camp, they would tell the story to others, answering the whys, calming outraged folks so they could continue narrating the story, interpreting the facts and giving their opinions.

If they had some money, they could get drunk and find some comfort: “The hard edges gone, and the warmth. Then there was no loneliness, for a man could people his brains with friends, and he could find his enemies and destroy them…And hunger did not skulk about… ”

At night, they played music. Harmonicas are so easy to learn, you do not even have to learn how to play, it comes naturally to you. Guitars and fiddles require more learning. And with the deep strings of the guitar, the sharp chords of the harmonica and the skirl and squeal of the fiddle, they could improvise some dancing.

Playing Guitar

They played reels and danced or watched others dancing, square dancing, clapping with their hands and tapping out the tune: “Chicken Reel”, and now “As I walked through the streets of Laredo”, and they played folk songs and story songs.

Elmer Rich could have played in one of the camps. In 1936, Eleanor Roosevelt pinned a red ribbon on his shirt following a fiddle contest!

And eager to be saved from their sins and to never sin again, they cried, kneeled and whimpered on the ground, as the preacher prayed for their souls.

“The migrant people  looked humbly for pleasure on the road. “

Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 12:07 am  Comments (1)  
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Chapter 22

After the burning of their camp by deputies and local men wearing trench helmets and American Legion caps, the Joads decide that they do not want to be pushed around anymore. Tom is afraid of his reactions with these men who take decency away from people. He decides to drive to Weed Patch, a government camp near Bakerfield. There, deputies are not allowed in, except if they have a warrant.

At first, they are suspicious of the interest they get, but as they settle in, they learn about the welcome committee, other committees, the rules of the camp, hot showers and flushing toilets, and trading goods or rent for labor in the camp. The water runs hot, the camp is organized and the camp manager stops by to make sure that everything is ok.

Camp Manager

The camp is full now and they meet other people, each with stories, characters, passions, illnesses, joy and sorrow. The camp has a life of its own. There is even a full story on the disappearance of toilet paper in Number Four Sanitary Unit….

All the great, little and funny things that make life in the camp.

Tom finds a small job during the night, only to realize that even his nice new boss is not immune from the bank’s pressure on the Farmers’ Association. He will get paid twenty five cents instead of thirty, as the bank decides that “the wage is twenty five now.”

The Joads feel that they could stay in the camp for a while…but the men want to make sure that they find a job around there.