Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC (2001)

Read by: Dylan Baker

From goodreads: John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression follows the western movement of one family and a nation in search of work and human dignity. Perhaps the most American of American classics.

My first question, upon picking up the book, was 'What's up with the title?' I saw the movie a few years ago, and it did not clear the fog on this question for me. Now, having read the book, I get it. It is probably one of the best titles ever, once you get it.

John Steinbeck captured the effects of the Depression and the Dust Bowl by following one family, the Joads. Isn't that an awesome last name? Does anyone know a Joad? It was a new name for me. They lived and worked in Oklahoma as tenant farmers. The story starts with son Tom Joad having been released from prison (he was in for man-slaughter that occurred during a drunken fight). He hitches a ride to his parents' place to find them gone and the ex-preacher Jim Cayce wandering nearby. They have a good chat and Jim knows Tom's family is at his Uncle John's and that they plan to go out West to find work.

And out West they do head. Packing up three generations (with a 4th on the way) and as much household items, food, and water as they can into 1 vehicle. Tom and his brother Al are the only two that know how to drive the vehicle. At the last minute, Grandpa decides he doesn't want to go and has to be drugged and placed on the top of the load. He never really recovers himself, and once he is gone, Grandma loses it mentally and eventually succumbs too. One by one, the Joad family is widdled down for various reasons.

When they finally do make it to California, it isn't all that they expected. The work is hard, and even harder to get. The family, and all other migrant farmers, are treated like trash and aren't given protection by local law enforcement. Through it all, Ma Joad keeps the family decent people - sharing what they have when they have it and treating all others like human beings. She and her son Tom are the quiet heroes of this story.

Dylan Baker really made this audiobook come alive. I could hear Grandpa's toothless lip smacking, Grandma's religious screeching, Ma Joad's rushed version of Rose of Sharon's name, son Tom's slow, firm consideration of a situation, Al's lusty fascination with the ladies, and so on. He truly made each character an individual while also having Pa Tom Joad and son Tom Joad sound related.

++++: I had a personal connection to this book (paternal grandparents were migrant farmers), Steinbeck kept taking me to that 'it's hopeless' place to pull me back out with some act of kindness, the children's fascination with flush toilets, Rose of Sharon rallied at the end and lost her silliness, Ma Joad becomes the acknowledged family leader at the end of the book, the realistic portrayal of sex.

--: This audio version had sudden, jarring harmonica music in-between scenes. More than once I almost dropped a glass or slammed on the breaks. If you are already in a depressed state, Steinbeck might not be the read for you right now.


  1. "It is probably one of the best titles ever, once you get it." - In my view, Steinbeck's "big-picture" chapters are the ones that make The Grapes of Wrath an outstanding book (and not merely a very good one). I have a particular affinity for the chapter that names the book (one I've reread countless times and never cease to be amazed by) because once you get it, you get it. You get the whole book. While I personally prefer East of Eden (despite recognizing that it is probably the technical "worse" book of the two), The Grapes of Wrath is simply brilliant... though like you say, perhaps not best read when depressed.