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The Grapes of Wrath (Centennial Edition) by John Steinbeck – An Eye Opening Classic

September 24, 2011
The Grapes of Wrath (Centennial Edition) by John Steinbeck

Forced from their home, the Joad family is lured to California to find work; instead they find disillusionment, exploitation, and hunger.

Dont Understand Why This Book Gets A Bad Reputation
California, 1939: The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price . . . oranges dumped . . . The people come for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges . . .
There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates–died of malnutrition–because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.

This is a brilliant and penetrating engagement of Americas and Californias cultural history, that will remain an important work as long as humans are willing to examine what it is to be human.

Seventy years later, it is too easy for comfortable Americans to believe that Steinbecks earthy and troubled scenes of people struggling to live are now removed from our present concerns. Displaced migrants for whom dignity or health is beyond reach, desperate to find enough work to feed their familial children, aged, sick and dying, being beaten and shot and driven from impoverished tent camps–we are _not_ seventy years removed. Present realities are actually worse. Trickle-down economics trickles stay closer to the wealthy than ever before. 2.7 billion people live on less than $2/day. 1.1 billion live on less than $1/day. These are 2001s numbers, and its not gotten better. The economic causes are global, and the people spraying kerosene on the systemic waste of food (borrowing from Steinbecks account above), are Americas largest agricultural conglomerations subsidized by comfortably disinterested Americans. US farm subsidies, instituted during the depression years to support Americas family farms, are now flowing into megacorporations, providing permission, power, and position to adjust food prices to their advantage. The lions share of todays agricultural subsidies is really taxpayer funded `corporate welfare. Dont expect your legislative representative to admit to this anytime soon, let alone try to grapple with it. And the reach is global. The would-be small family farmer in sub-Saharan Africa has no hope of competing with giant US food producers, brokers, and market fixers. Without any real hope for a domestic agricultural sector (excepting crops that can profitably be shipped to wealthier nations), these cultures have no light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel has collapsed.

No, expect instead that your representative is busy making sure you can buy more assault weapons, and more armor piercing ammunition too. Perhaps chumming with lobbyists for the afore mentioned market-fixers, or piously blustering about someone elses sexuality. Expect also for this representative to tell us what a benevolent people we noble Americans are. He may even interject some lovely sounding numbers in this regard. Question these numbers honestly. What percentage of a given program is for the salaries of American `consultants? What percentage of our GNP is this generosity as compared to the percent GNP contributions of the other nations of the wealthy west? Are wealthy and/or complacent Americans the people `spraying kerosene on the food that could feed the hungry? This is a very expansive issue, and perhaps I digress just a bit.

Steinbeck was a wonderful writer, subversive in the eyes of the cultural status quo. We need another Steinbeck, of sorts. We could use many of them. This same basic storyline is painfully intimate in the lives of hundreds of millions today, but the scale is much larger and the distance and differentiation between the malnourished migrant and the wealthy lords of lands and foods has grown dramatically.

Tom stepped clear of the ditch and wiped the sweat out of his eyes. You hear what that paper said `bout agitators up north a Bakersfiel?
Sure, said Wilkie. They do that all a time.
Well, I was there. They wasnt no agitators. What they call reds. What the hell is these reds anyways?
Timothy scraped a little hill level in the bottom of the ditch. The sun made his white bristle beard shine. Theys a lot a fellas wanta know what reds is. He laughed. One of our boys foun out. He patted the piled earth gently with his shovel. Fella named Hines–got bout thirty thousan acres, peaches and grapes–got a cannery an a winery. Well, hes all a time talkin about them goddamn reds. Goddamn reds is drivin the country to ruin, he says, an We got to drive these here red bastards out. Well, they were a young fella jus come out west here, an hes listenin one day. He kinda scratched his head an he says, Mr. Hines, I aint been here long. What is these goddamn reds? Well, sir, Hines says, A red is any son-of-a-bitch that wants thirty cents an hour when were payin twenty-five! Well, this young fella he thinks about her, an he scratches his head, an he says, Well, Jesus, Mr. Hines. I aint a son-of-a-bitch, but if thats what a red is–why, I want thirty cents an hour. Everbody does. Hell, Mr. Hines, were all reds. Timothy drove his shovel along the ditch bottom, and the solid earth shone where the shovel cut it.
Tom laughed. Me too, I guess. . . .
In line, the three men worked, and the ditch inched along, and the sun shone hotly down . . .

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The Grapes of Wrath (Centennial Edition) by John Steinbeck


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