I don't know how anyone could read this book and not give it a five star rating. The true test for me of a "great book" is one that stays with me -- one I can't stop thinking about long after I've finished. I read this book for the second time in my life a month ago (first time was in high school many years ago), and I'm still haunted by the suffering endured by the Joad family. The interesting thing is that Steinbeck wrote this book in 1939 at the height of the injustices being fraught upon the migrant workers in California. I'm sure it wasn't popular then as it brought to the forefront the corruption of some powerful people in America. It also spoke to the conscience of every American which eventually led to political reform in California. After reading this book, I did some research into Steinbeck's motivation and learned that he was haunted by the plight of California's migrant workers to the point of obsession. To fuel his anger, he would visit the migrant camps each day full of their dirt, disease and hungry people and then return home to write about those people responsible for these conditions -- people he considered to be murderers.
Steinbeck concentrated on the circumstances of one family, The Joads, tenant farmers in Oklahoma until they were forced out by the larger companies who wanted their land back. With dreams of luscious grapes and peaches in abundance waiting to be picked, they loaded up their belongings and began their journey on Route 66 headed for Bakersfield, California. They began their trip with a bevy of colorful characters led by Ma and Pa Joad. It's amazing how much power Steinbeck gave to Ma Joad -- years before women had any right to a voice. Unfortunately, just as the Joads were heading out, so were thousands upon thousands of other families. This would ultimately lead to supply and demand. There would be too many workers for the few jobs available and, consequently, people would be agreeing to work for peanuts just to be able to feed their families.
Steinbeck's writing is astounding as the unrest of the migrants builds to a crescendo and just as the dust has risen in Oklahoma, so will the voices of the poor migrant workers. Steinbeck says, "In the eyes of the hungry, there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people, the grapes of wrath are growing heavy." It is just a matter of time before their wrath is unleashed and you can feel it in every page you turn. He says that, "Our people are good people; our people are kind people. Pray God some day kind people won't all be poor. Pray God someday a kid can eat." I don't know how you can read some of his words and not get teary eyed. But sixty years have passed since the writing of this book and there are still migrant stories to be told and kids who have no food to eat yet sadly the world continues despite its injustices.
I won't kid you into believing that this is an easy book to read. The first 150 pages are so slow going that I almost had to put it down. But I kept on going just as the Joad's kept on going and I'm certainly glad I did. We could all take a lesson from their quest for survival and their quest just to be able to eat the next day. Their determination, in light of all the obstacles they had to face, is truly a lesson to be learned. You feel a sense of accomplishment after reading a book like this -- I know I did.