“And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”
Another classic under my belt (Go me.) After being impressed by Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, I was happy to dig into this one. At first I was worried it wouldn't be for me, with the rustic dialogue and slow opening, but I pushed through it and ended up finding out another winner from Steinbeck.
It's not a book you can read quickly or fly through, as its subtle magic slowly works but does ultimately work well. The characters are forced from their homes onto the torturous trail to California, where promises of land, riches, and food await. At least they think they do. Because even if man advertised salvation, it's wrapped up with usual misdirection and downright deceit.
While Steinbeck tells the tale through the focus of one family, it was a hardship that affected thousands of others. The main family is ... interesting. Mama Joad is the backbone of the clan and ends up playing a bigger part than who I thought would be the main hero of the story, Tom. Some of the characters have hidden strength, others are ready to brawl at the tip of a hat. Some are weak but find their strength, while others literally lay down and die long before the book is over. And yes, one just ditches the group and his pregnant wife completely!
What makes this book shine isn't the terrible hardships (although that needs to be read about and acknowledged), but the perseverance of the human spirit and staying loyal to family through trial. When I started out reading this book, I saw how miserable their situation was and mused how fortunate we are in today's times with all we've blessed with here. At the end of the book I'm thinking how much stronger these people seem compared to us. If we fell now, this generation, into the predicaments they're facing, I think we'd handle it worse, weaker. Not as much pride now in that ending thought.
I was totally for an uprising, no matter how fruitless it may seem. The people branding the controlling whip were nauseating and I had no sympathy for them.
The odd ending leaves the book a strange note - there's no guaranteed promise since we know they may very well still die and succumb to starvation or the cruel people running the cruel show. I'm thinking it's more of a take on supporting life and helping out your fellow man when things go upside down. Either that, or Steinbeck just wanted to write a strange shocking ending that he knew would raise reader eyebrows.
No matter how simple and straightforward this family is, all people hold their unique complexities. This piece of history was yet another shadow of shame on the history of humankind.
“Death was a friend, and sleep was Death's brother.”
“Muscles aching to work, minds aching to create - this is man.”
“Our people are good people; our people are kind people. Pray God some day kind people won't all be poor.”