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English Book Club: The grapes of wrath

The novel: The grapes of wrath

portadaThe Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel, publishd in 1939.The book won several prizes, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.
The narrative begins just after Tom Joad is paroled from McAlester prison, where he had been imprisoned after being convicted of homicide. On his return to his home near Sallisaw, Oklahoma, Tom meets former preacher Jim Casy, whom he remembers from his childhood, and the two travel together. When they arrive at Tom’s childhood farm home, they find it deserted. The next morning, Tom finds his family loading their remaining possessions into a sedan converted to a truck; the family has defaulted on their bank loans, and their farm has been repossessed. Consequently, the Joads see no option but to seek work in California. Although leaving Oklahoma would violate his parole, Tom decides it is worth the risk, and invites Casy to join him and his family.
Steinbeck was known to have borrowed from field notes taken during 1938 by Farm Security Administration worker and author Sanora Babb. While Babb collected personal stories about the lives of the displaced migrants for a novel she was developing, her supervisor shared her reports with Steinbeck. Babb’s own novel, Whose Names Are Unknown, was eclipsed by the success of The Grapes of Wrath and was shelved until it was finally published in 2004, a year before Babb’s death.
While writing the novel at his home, Steinbeck had unusual difficulty devising a title. The Grapes of Wrath, suggested by his wife was deemed more suitable than anything by the author. The title is a reference to lyrics from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, by Julia Ward Howe. These lyrics refer, in turn, to the biblical passage Revelation 14:19–20. This and other biblical passages had inspired a long tradition of imagery of Christ in the winepress, in various media.
When preparing to write the novel, Steinbeck wrote: “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects].” He famously said, “I’ve done my damnedest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” This work won a large following among the working class due to Steinbeck’s sympathy for the migrants and workers’ movement, and his accessible prose style.

The author: John Steinbeck

John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. Born in Salinas, California, Steincame from a family of moderate means. He worked his way through college at Stanford University but never graduated. In 1925 he went to New York, where he tried for a few years to establish himself as a free-lance writer, but he failed and returned to California. After publishing some novels and short stories, Steinbeck first became widely known with Tortilla Flat (1935), a series of humorous stories about Monterey paisanos.
Steinbeck’s novels can all be classified as social novels dealing with the economic problems of rural labour, but there is also a streak of worship of the soil in his books, which does not always agree with his matter-of-fact sociological approach. After the rough and earthy humour of Tortilla Flat, he moved on to more serious fiction, often aggressive in its social criticism, to In Dubious Battle (1936), which deals with the strikes of the migratory fruit pickers on California plantations. This was followed by Of Mice and Men (1937), the story of the imbecile giant Lennie, and a series of admirable short stories collected in the volume The Long Valley (1938). In 1939 he published what is considered his best work, The Grapes of Wrath, the story of Oklahoma tenant farmers who, unable to earn a living from the land, moved to California where they became migratory workers.
Among his later works should be mentioned East of Eden (1952), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), and Travels with Charley (1962), a travelogue in which Steinbeck wrote about his impressions during a three-month tour in a truck that led him through forty American states. He died in New York City in 1968.

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