Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Grapes of Wrath Readalong 1: The Land Before Grapes

Well, I've neither cried nor frothed with rage yet. But there's been a lot of sympathetic head-shaking.


The Dude will not abide these home-wrecking tractors.

The book is broken up into chapters of plot and chapters of atmosphere. Atmosphere-wise, we've been introduced to the hard, dust bowl land of Oklahoma in the 1930s.


Dust, stahp.

Things are not going well for farmers. Everyone's broke. No one's land is their own anymore. Chapter 5, the atmosphere chapter describing land owners sending their agents to give their tenants eviction notice, got me right in the gut. Steinbeck's writing is so fantastic in these chapters. He makes the story so much bigger than the Joads. He uses these chapters to get some Ideas out there on the page, too. Like, also in chapter 5, when he says "the monster that built the tractor, the monster that sent the tractor out, had somehow got into the driver's hands, into his brain, and muscle, had goggled him and muzzled him — goggled his mind, muzzled his speech, goggled his perception, muzzled his protest." Dude. That's good. So I'm liking these atmosphere chapters. Except for chapter 7, on the used car lot. That was a skimmer.


It was all the "Used Cars. Good Used Cars," "Buicks, Nashes, De Sotos," "If I could get a hundred jalopies," et freaking cetera.

In the plot chapters, we've been introduced to the Joad family. Tom Jr., who just got paroled from jail, is looking like our protagonist. I am REALLY liking Ma Joad, so far. We can imagine, and it's spelled out pretty blatantly early on in an atmosphere chapter, that women are wholly dependent on their men at this time. But Ma Joad is the integral Jenga piece in her family. "She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. [...] She seemed to know that if she swayed the whole family shook, and if she ever deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone." She is quietly dignified, and I am liking her face.

What else? Muley breaks my heart, wandering around like a graveyard ghos'. Characters are working the idea of communism around like the truck driver who picked up Tommy Joad worked that piece of gum. One of the more flat-out-saying-it instances is in chapter 8, when Rev. Casy is saying grace over the Joads' breakfast and says, "But when they're all workin' together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang — that's right, that's holy." The Joad clan + Casy have just piled into the truck and left for California, Grampa against his will. We know Tom Jr.'s going to run into trouble for breaking his parole and leaving the state. But what else will they find in California? Will there really be work? Will there really be so many grapes? What is up with the name "Rose of Sharon," or, to her friends, "Rosasharn"? So many questions, you guys. 

Mostly, I'm worried about the grape thing. 


You have crushed ENOUGH souls, Willy Wonka.

28 comments:

  1. Totally off topic, but that last scene where Wonka yelled traumatized me as a kid.

    Ugh chapter 7. Boo no. And I can tell that if the socialist stuff keeps up, Imma get real irritated. Because yeah, we get it, don't say it ten thousand times, Steinbeck.

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    1. Right? Nothing in this book could be as sad as that scene.

      Steinbeck is liking repetition. That's the nice thing about reading this for kicks instead of school - we can go ahead and skim.

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    2. Agreed, I was terrified of Willy Wonka after he yelled and refused to watch the rest of the movie. So until recently, I always thought it was awful.

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    3. Oh my gosh! I'm glad you finished it because it turns out freaking magical.

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  2. The tractor chapter is the best. Also (so far anyway) the most depressing.

    What IS up with the name "Rose of Sharon"? She couldn't just be Rose? or Sharon? One of those as a middle name?

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    1. Right? What? Is Ma Joad's name Sharon, or something? Were people being named Blank of Blank all over the place in the '30s? WE NEED ANSWERS, STEINBECK.

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    2. It's in the Bible, so...maybe they just decided to try and get fancy.

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    3. True. Maybe he's just taking it back. Way back.

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    4. *cuts in* There's LOADS of Biblical references in this, only I can't remember what any of them are and I never saw them for myself in the first place. But I know they're there because it was a talking point when we read it at Uni.

      This is SO helpful!

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    5. In the comments on someone's blog last week someone mentioned how the path of the Joads follows the path of Moses and his peeps, with the suffering, exodus, and promised land.

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    6. Oooh, interesting. I hadn't seen that comment last week, but from the first part I can definitely see how it makes sense.

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  3. Ma is the SHIZ. I love her so much.

    Chapter 5 WAS so intense, and I think it's the one where I was closest to crying. There was a lump in the throat moment. And oh my GOSH, the writing in the inbetweeny chapters. All the YES.

    I feel kind of sorry for the car lot chapter now cause everyone hates it! Which is fair enough, cause it's kind of boring. Except that it shows how the everyone is just getting screwed all the time because everything sucks.

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    1. Poor car chapter. It's definitely useful, showing how everyone's getting screwed every which way and hey, check it out, people are greedy douche canoes, but it could have been less ... just less, haha.

      Chapter 5! My heart.

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  4. I kind of thought the stuff in Chapter 5 was an outside perspective of what happened to the Joads. Because when they're explaining to Tom what happened and why they had to leave their house, they recount almost the exact same series of events as in Chapter 5, with the threatening to shoot the tractor guy and then the house getting knocked down at the corner. Or maybe it's just that everyone's experience was so similar that it COULD have been the Joads, but it could have been another family just as easily. Aw, hell...I don't know.

    I'm so glad you gave a shout-out to Muley. He's a tragic figure if ever there was one. And SO stubborn. His family was probably wise to leave without him.

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    1. Stubborn like a MULE! I GET IT!

      I thought that too, about chapter five! But then there was something that made me not think that. The tractor driver's name was different? It was an owner instead of a bank, or something? I don't remember. Definitely seems like this is a pretty common experience to the farmers. Everyone's looking for someone to shoot.

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    2. ah HA like a Mule. Steinbeck, you so clever.

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    3. Steinbeck: *frowns* "That wasn't the clever part."

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    4. Oh Steinbeck hush. If you didn't want people to enjoy that part, you should have named him something less pun-y.

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    5. Ha! Mule-y! I never thought of that.

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  5. I'm scared to keep reading. They're can't be good things waiting for the Joad's. And too much lead up about Tom Joad's parole - it's bound to bite him in the ass, him leaving the state.

    At least two of the dogs got to stay behind with Muley. But why did they get to stay behind. Pa calls them and only one jumps up so that's it? The other two just get to stay behind. If Muley wasn't staying behind would they leave the two dogs??

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    1. I'm with you. I almost want to stop here where I can still pretend that maybe things turn out ok in the end. Except that I took one too many history classes and so know that's not really realistic. Ho hum.

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    2. I'm more certain than I want to be that Muley is going to eat those dogs.

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  6. "But Ma Joad is the integral Jenga piece in her family."

    YES SO MUCH. And Casy is that piece that you have to stick on top and hope that the whole thing doesn't fall over. Because, you know, 13 people and a dog is a lot to fit in the car.

    I actually don't like Muley. Obviously his family wasn't cool with living in the bushes and eating squirrels, and he just seems selfish to stick around and let them go west on their own.

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    1. Yeah, that Muley kind of had a bit of a breakdown, hey? No logic left in that guy.

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  7. I really like Ma Joad, too - she seems so critical to the overall success of the family, and even just the happiness of the family, that I worry what Steinbeck is going to do to her/them, and how much it will crush my soul.

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    1. I hope he doesn't mess with Ma! With how he built her up, it would be a bit of a cheap move to do terrible things specifically to her. It's like when authors kill dogs. I hate that.

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  8. Rose/Sharon's name makes no sense. Poor girl.

    Ma Joad is awesome. Like I get that it sucked back then that women couldn't really be the breadwinners and definitely depended on the men for their livelihood, but women DID do stuff that was important, and totally held their families together and stuff. So yay for her, she rocks. Although for real, she could have probably taken that box of letters with her... unless they were incriminating or something.

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    1. HA. Too right about the letters. That was a hardship that need not have been endured. Those could definitely fit in a pocket.

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