It was on this date 75 years ago, in 1939, that John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was published. Following the Joad family as they lose their family farm in Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma and head for fields and groves of California, this epic tale has parallels for the dispossessed and downtrodden everywhere and in every time. The book and subsequent movie, the 1940 John Ford classic starring Henry Ford as the everyman Tom Joad, have influenced my perspective on the world since I was child.
When it was published, The Grapes of Wrath was an instant bestseller but it also stirred more than a little controversy. Many were shocked at the portrayals of poverty and couldn’t believe they were true, that such destitution could exist in our country. Many were alarmed at the book’s themes of collectivism, feeling that it was a nudge in the direction of some form of Soviet Communism instead of a gathering of the preyed upon and voiceless into a form that had a strong and unified voice and gave them protection against their oppressors.
I am sure there are many who still see the book as some sort of threat to the status quo– it is still one of the most frequently banned books in the country. I think that says a lot about the strength of the powers-that-be and the fact that there are even more families like the Joads out there today– dispossessed, voiceless and feeling absolutely alone in the world. I am sure that Steinbeck could find plenty of source material in today’s America to write a modern day sequel.
It’s a powerful book and movie, one that I play at least once a year in the studio. It still moves me deeply ad always will. I wrote about the movie here a few years back in a post titled Then Who Do We Shoot?, outlining my early brush with the movie and how it affected me as a kid. I also had the video below which has a review from the NY Times with a few of the many great scenes including Tom’s farewell to his mother.
Happy 75th, Grapes of Wrath. You haven’t lost a step.