21 April 2014
On Reading 'The Grapes of Wrath'
One of today’s foremost Steinbeck scholars writes an extended meditation on the influence of The Grapes of Wrath, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its first publication
In this compelling biography of a book, Susan Shillinglaw delves into John Steinbeck’s classic to explore the cultural, social, political, scientific, and creative impact of The Grapes of Wrath upon first publication, as well as its enduring legacy. First published in April 1939, Steinbeck’s National Book Award–winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. The story of their struggle remains eerily relevant in today’s America and stands as a portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, “in the souls of the people.”
I've been meaning to re-read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath for a while now (sophomore American Lit teacher did a fair job at making this one of the least enjoyable novels ever) and while I have started on it, I'm still only on chapter 5. Fail. When Susan Shillinglaw's slim companion On Reading 'The Grapes of Wrath' caught my eye I thought that might be good to help me over my Steinbeck reading hump.
Shillinglaw provides a very good overview of the writing and publication history of The Grapes of Wrath as well as some basic literary analysis (i.e. the five layers that make up the plot) without hitting you over the head with symbolism. She also pulls in example from a few of Steinbeck's other work, particularly Sea of Cortez which isn't a novel (I didn't know that). If you're working on a re-read of TGoW, like me, this is a really good companion but it's also just a nice book to read on the 75th anniversary of TGoW's publication.