The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

grapes of wrathJohn Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath
Published in 1939
Read from December 18th 2015 to January 21st 2016

My love for Steinbeck continues to grow, and now that I’ve at last read Grapes of Wrath I can finally call myself a true fan of his. Often considered his greatest work, and which he won the Pulitzer Prize for, it truly is one of the great American novels, and after reading it I understand and approve of all the recognition and praise it has gotten over the years, but also the controversy it has stirred. And it sure has stirred up quite a lot.

Steinbeck does not go easy on those he hold responsible for the migrant worker’s hardships during the Great Depression, he is angry and Grapes of Wrath is thus an angry novel. It points fingers, it lays blame, and it is never doubted whose side we should be on in this conflict. In someways it is therefore understandable how certain people were put off, Steinbeck’s presentation of the time is not neutral, but it sure is passionate. Reactions to to his work varied greatly, it received praise from the critics, won prizes and spent ages on top of the best-seller lists, but it was also banned by school boards and libraries, condemned by right-wing ministers, corporate farmers and politicians, who claimed the work and the author to be communist, immoral and untruthful (DeMott, 2000, p. xxxviii). Exactly the same people who Steinbeck can be said to attack in Grapes of Wrath. Nonetheless, people kept buying the book, and are still doing so to this day.

When looking at the book purely as a work of literature and not as a political instrument, it has been greeted warmly, and received mostly great reviews upon publication, although some critics have criticized Steinbeck for being too sentimental in his writing, and questioning his writing style. I personally find the book extremely well written, and the style suited for the people he represent. Steinbeck very much writes in the “voice” of his characters, which are the migrant workers: not necessarily the most educated, but hard working and resourceful people. It is only natural that should be reflected in the language used. I have to admit though, as a Norwegian reader it’s hard at times to understand some of the most local and old fashioned phrases and word choices, which is one of the reasons The Grapes of Wrath took me a while to finish, but I would never even consider reading this in a translated version. The style of the language is such a crucial element to the work, and makes you connect even more the characters and setting.

An example of "The Grapes of Wrath's" success: The book was quickly made into a film, already in 1940 John Ford's directed motion picture was released, starring Henry Fonda.

An example of “The Grapes of Wrath’s” success: The book was quickly made into a film, already in 1940 John Ford’s directed motion picture was released, starring Henry Fonda. It was instantly a hit.

Another interesting aspect of The Grapes of Wrath’s style is how the chapters are composed. The book presents the family Joad’s story, but in (almost) every other chapter the perspective changes and presents us with a more general view; here we read about the state of the country, the migrant farmers as a whole, see symbolic happenings taking place and similar. DeMott describes the technique as “one which combined a suitably elastic form and elevated style to express the far-reaching tragedy of the migrant drama” and “a contrapuntal structure, which alternates short lyrical chapters of exposition and background pertinent to the migrants as a group with the long narrative chapters of the Joad family’s dramatic exodus to California” (2000, p. xii).

I found this technique to have a brilliant effect, by including the general chapters we truly understand the magnitude of what was going on, it has a greater impact than just one family in a book, and then we are guided back to the Joads which we emotionally connect to and give those we learn about a human voice. The use of this technique also shows that in addition to writing a book about something he was deeply passionate about and that he felt needed to be said, Steinbeck was also experimenting as an author, which is always the sign of a great writer.

Reading The Grapes of Wrath took me all of five weeks, but I’m so glad I took the time. In my opinion it is one of those books everyone should read at some point, and it has made me an ever greater Steinbeck fan than I already was. It quickly made it’s way in to my “favourites”-list on Goodreads, among with East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. As a finish, I’d also like to recommend the John Ford film from 1940, made only a year after the book was published. It’s an excellent adaptation, and mostly true to it’s source material, with some great acting by Henry Fonda.

Sources:

DeMott, Robert (2000). “Introduction” in John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath (p. ix-xl): Penguin Classics.

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What I read in 2015

East of Eden

Steinbeck’s East of Eden – A new favourite!

Okey, so.. ages since my last post. Let’s just ignore that!

2016 is here! Alright, 2016 was here 19 days ago, but it’s still January, so I feel I can justify making a “what was 2015 like”-blog post. Starting off with books read in 2015! I thought I’d also make a similar list concerning films I’ve watched the last, which will be up this week as well.

I think two authors really defined my book year of 2015: John Steinbeck and Norwegian author Jon Michelet with his currently four books in the series A Hero of the Sea (title translated freely by me, En sjøens helt in Norwegian). Michelet’s story revolves around the Norwegian war sailors, concerning both cargo and military ships. Unfortunately they have not been translated to English (yet?), so you’d have to be able to understand Norwegian to read them.

Steinbeck is, among Michelet, my most read author this year, with 4 titles. As I’ve read more of his works he has become one of my favourite writers, and I actually started 2016 by reading one of his greatest works, Grapes of Wrath. One of his works actually became the topic for one of my semester assignments; The Moon is Down from 1942. Always fun when you can write about something you like for school!

Stats:
New books read: 36
Most read author: John Steinbeck and Jon Michelet
Most disappointing
: Funny Girl – Nick Hornby and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.
New Favourites: The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway, East of Eden – John Steinbeck, The Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson and Apology by Plato.
Best non-fiction: The Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson and Apology – Plato.
Least memorable (but not necessarily bad): Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healy, Mobile Library – David Whitehouse and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Best Children’s Book: Tonje Glimmerdal by Maria Parr.

All in all I read 36 books in 2015, not counting rereads of titles I’ve read before. The following is a list of all 36 sorted by reading date, and with the rating I gave it on Goodreads. For the works that only have a Norwegian title I’ve included my own translations.

Jon Michelet – Skogsmatrosen (The forest sea man) 5/5 stars
Nick Hornby – Funny Girl 2/5 stars
Kjell Askildsen Thomas F’s siste nedtegnelser til almenheten (Thomas F’s last records for the public – short stories) 4/5 stars
Amy Poehler – Yes Please 3/5 stars
David Whitehouse – Mobile Library 3/5 stars
Jon Michelet – Skytteren (The marksman) 4/5 stars
Hugh Howey – Wool (Silo #1) 3/5 stars
Carl Frode Tiller – Innsirkling (Circling) 4/5 stars
Author unknown – Lazarillo de Tormes 4/5 stars
Muriel Barbery – The Elegance of the Hedgehog 4/5 stars
H.G. Wells – The War of the Worlds 4/5 stars
Rainbow Rowell – Eleanor and Park 3/5 stars
J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye 4/5 stars
Jon Michelet – Gullgutten (The Golden Boy) 4/5 stars
Emma Healey – Elizabeth is Missing 3/5 stars
Gabrielle Zevin – The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry 3/5 stars
Jamie Ford – Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 2/5 stars
Harper Lee – Go Set A Watchman 4/5 stars
Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea 5/5 stars
John Boyne – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 3/5 stars
John Steinbeck – East of Eden 5/5 stars
John Steinbeck – The Pearl 4/5 stars
Edgar Allan Poe – The Murders in the Rue Morgue 3/5 stars
Edgar Allan Poe – The Tell-Tale Heart 5/5 stars
Bjørn Ousland – Sydover – Kappløpet mot Sydpolen (Southbound – The Race to the South Pole) 3/5 stars
Plato – Apology 5/5 stars
Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything 5/5 stars
Maria Parr – Tonje Glimmerdal 4/5 stars
Hanne Ørstavik – The Blue Room 4/5 stars
Jojo Moyes – After You 4/5 stars
Gunnar Tjomlid – Placebodefekten (The Placebo Defect) 4/5 stars
John Steinbeck – The Red Pony 4/5 stars
Neil Gaiman – American Gods 4/5 stars
John Steinbeck – The Moon is Down 5/5 stars
Jon Michelet – Blodige strender (Bloodstained Beaches) 4/5 stars
Caitlin Moran – How To Be A Woman 3/5 stars

Looking back it’s been quite a varied book year with a lot of highlights, but also a few disappointments. Unfortunately one of the latter was the work of one of my favourite authors; Nick Hornby. Funny Girl turned out to be boring girl.. Sorry Nick, but I’m still looking forward to your next one!