The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

The Grapes of Wrath Review

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The Grapes of Wrath Review

The Grapes of Wrath is a 1939 realist novel written by John Steinbeck. It is regarded as one of the best books ever written and I thoroughly agree with that statement.

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And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history:

repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed

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The Grapes of Wrath Review

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I loved this book. It is about a family from Oklahoma who are driven from their home and take a long, perilous trip to California and along the way looking for jobs constantly and meeting tragedies. I am interested in this time period very much and I have to say that reading this book felt like taking a cold, hard-hitting punch that I needed to take as Hollywood movies from the thirties make it seem that the era was fun and wonderful. I love those moves, but this is the reality and it is one very harsh, terrible reality.

Some say that John Steinbeck’s prose relied not enough on artistry and surely the descriptive passages are mostly rare here. However, I have an issue with that as they make it seem that it did not deserve its Nobel Prize for Literature when it really did deserve it in spades. What he lacks in said artistry, he more them compensates with a strong craft, a great knack for realism and especially creating extremely well realized, complex and real characters.

Let’s comment on those lovely characters. The Joads are just such a wonderful family. They behaved and felt like a family, not a glorified one, but a realistic and still very strong family. He painted them so well and some of the finest passages came when the entire family was together. I really rooted for them which is again a testament to how strongly he imagined these people.

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The Grapes of Wrath Review

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Tom is an excellent protagonist. I loved the exploration of wrath in his character and how sometimes people are just driven to commit crimes against their will. I have a strong sense of morality and justice and thus I really connected and sympathized with his character. But then again, he is still the responsible one in his family and the conversations between him and his mother were some of the best talks in the book.

Speaking of the devil, I just loved her character. The mother, never named here, is actually the finest character in the book, the one which felt the most alive and the most real. It is odd that Steinbeck portrayed such an especially strong, admirable woman when he did just the opposite in ‘Of Mice and Men’, but I was thankful for that as she is the one who holds the entire family together, fights for the family and literally makes almost all of the decisions for them. She is a fighter, a wonderful mother and ultimately a terrific case for the power of matriarchy.

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The Grapes of Wrath Review

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The father himself lost all hope and thus his wife takes charge. He is not as well developed, but still his story felt heartbreaking. Uncle John always talks about being immoral as he had a troubling history with prostitutes and alcohol. He did not have those great moments the rest did, but still his problems were fairly well explored.

I loved the preacher Casey. His monologues were powerful, his questioning of faith felt very deep and complex and he is a very difficult, complex person. Definitely some of the deepest lines of dialogue came from him and I was devastated that he had to die.

Al is annoying as this womanizer but again those young men exist. Noah is the “weird” one and he definitely reminded me of myself when I was younger so I definitely sympathized with him along with Tom the most. Connie leaves his wife and thus becomes a cliched irresponsible man but again those do exist. There are a lot of characters here and the author paints them well and shows how different all of them are which was great.

Ruthie and Winfield were a lot of fun as these mischievous kids and I liked the humor that was present in the book, rarely but strongly at times. It was needed as it was otherwise extremely dark and terrible in its story.

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The Grapes of Wrath Review

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The grandparents were great and especially the death of the grandfather and how he died because “he never really left home” was just devastating. The strongest passages probably came from the departure from their home. It is a terrible thing to leave your hometown and house and it was so well described in painful detail that I was just hit hard by that chapter.

As for Rose of Sharon, she is reduced to a motherly figure, but there is nothing wrong with that and actually she provided that incredible ending to the book which was at first weird, but thinking about it later, I realized its immense power. The novel ends on such a powerfully humanist, but still ambiguous/pessimistic note that I really loved it and it was perfect for this story to end indefinitely.

So The Grapes of Wrath has a deep, powerful story that is filled with an infinite number of classic, unforgettable plot points that I will just never forget. Its themes of improvised leadership, altruism and above all wrath and inhumanity were powerful and so well explored. The book is definitely a must read as it is not only incredibly emotional, realistic and thematically rich, but also constantly engaging and breathtaking from beginning to end.

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The Grapes of Wrath Review

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I wasn’t crazy about some of the structure choices here such as those shorter passages with the descriptions of the life on the road etc. Some of them were great, but some such as the one with cars was needlessly meticulous in detail and felt like a detour. But other than that, Steinbeck is a great author and this is his magnum opus where he gave us the ultimate Great Depression story that is never going to be topped. The tone is great, some of the imagery was unforgettable, the attention to detail is overwhelming and the dialogue and emotion are particularly vigorous.

The Grapes of Wrath is one of the best novels ever written with unforgettable, gloriously painted characters, a realistic and heartbreaking story set in the Great Depression and many deeply touching, immensely memorable plot points and lines of dialogue. It is engaging and tragic, deep and epic and just a masterpiece from the first to the last page.

My Rating – 4.8

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