Within minutes of coming up with the Read Great Books literature challenge, I knew I would have to do The Grapes of Wrath. I've been avoiding Steinbeck for decades (somehow I was never assigned his classic in school), but the Oklahoma-to-California story line is just too close to be ignored.
So let us embark upon this Depression-era journey. Published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer prize. Steinbeck's story follows a family forced out of their Oklahoma home during the Dust Bowl, and what happens when they head west seeking a better life in California.
The title of the novel came from a lyric in the Battle Hymn of the Republic, inspired by the Bible's book of Revelation: "He is tramping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored...His truth is marching on."
Upon it's release in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath was both celebrated and banned. Steinbeck was called a socialist and communist for his sympathy towards migrant workers (and was accused of exaggerating his depictions), while others believed he was a voice for the poor. But burned or heralded, this novel was bought by nearly half a million people within its first year of publication. It has now sold over 14 million copies.
It has gone on to be one of the most influential books of the last century:
In 2005 Time magazine included the novel in its "TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005". In 2009, The Daily Telegraph of the United Kingdom included the novel in its "100 novels everyone should read". In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Grapes of Wrath tenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 1999, French newspaper Le Monde of Paris ranked The Grapes of Wrath as seventh on its list of the 100 best books of the 20th century. In the UK, it was listed at number 29 of the "nation's best loved novel" on the BBC's 2003 survey The Big Read.*
Author John Steinbeck was born and raised in Salinas, California, and as a teenager spent his summers working the the nearby farms, giving him the material for his future novels The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men. He was married three times, had two sons and was a lifelong advocate for the working class.
I am happy to be reading this classic for the first time, and hope you'll join me for a discussion about it on Tuesday, October 6. RSVP here.