I just finished re-reading The Grapes of Wrath the other night. Though the book is wildly depressing, it is also really fantastic. Kind of like Saving Private Ryan and The Passion of the Christ. They are good, but you don’t really enjoy them much.
There were a few things I noticed about the book, which I hadn’t read since I was 19 or 20.
First, it’s a completely different book in high school than it is when you are married with a family. I’ve noticed that about a lot of things. Your station in life greatly affects how you see the world, including movies, music, and books. Reading this as a college student (on my own – I was never assigned it for a class), I recall that I was really sad, but at the same time I couldn’t understand Ma’s need to keep “the fambly” together. Also, hormonal teenager that I was, I also kind of glazed over the profanity and talk about sex (though it was tasteful, it was there). I was surprised at the constant use of our Lord’s name in vain throughout the book, especially in the light that these people were Christians.
Second, and this came up earlier than the “it’s a different book” part, I felt an overwhelming gratefulness that I’m Catholic. A man in the book, Casy, is an ex-preacher. He leaves his ministry because he didn’t really “feel” anything. Or, more precisely, he felt plenty, but always wound up falling into sin, especially after a good sermon and a baptizin’. So he decides that all things are holy, everything is relative, and he quits preaching. Now, mind you, this is one of the characters that has real goodness in him. He honestly tries to do what is right. But he was on his own. Just a preacher because he studied the Bible some and started out on his own.
How grateful we should be to have the Holy Mother Church to guide us and our priests! Pray that they are guided always in God’s ways, and protected under the mantle of Our Lady!
Also, throughout, Uncle John feels great remorse over what he views to be his sins, and he repeatedly expresses the desire to talk to someone about them. His family does not want to hear about it, and rightly so. They love him, and knowing his sins will only make it more difficult, especially when things are so difficult all around for them. But Uncle John desperately wants to TELL someone.
He wants to go to Confession, and yet he doesn’t know it.
Thank God for His gift of the Sacraments! What a great relief it is to unburden ourselves, just as Jesus commanded us to do in Scripture!
One thing about the book is that there is no real resolution, which I’d forgotten. I wanted so much to know what happens to the Joads. But when reading The Grapes of Wrath, remember that it was written in the midst of the Depression – it was printed in early 1939 – and there was not yet a conclusion to write. Reading about pre-unionized labor, the rise of industrial farming, the fall of the small-time farmer…it was hurtful. And it was an eye-opener to just why unions came about, as well.
This is most definitely not a book for children. If you want to introduce the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl to your kids, I’d recommend Out of the Dust instead. I’m saving this one for the high school years.
[image source, though mine looks idetical to it]