4.23.2009

Grapes of Wrath

Just wanted to mention, since I'm already late, this month is the 70th anniverary of the Grapes of Wrath. Published in 1939, just as the nation was beginning to grope with an understanding of what had happened to it in the depression, the Grapes of Wrath tore the scabs from those wounds, to drain the infections beneath them. It's a terrible, wonderful book, depressing, but in a funny way, extremely hopeful -- in the midst of it all, the souls in and around the Joad family find humanity, in a world that would make them into animals.

This book was meaningful to me, personally. In a world where politics was cold, inhuman, and usually extremely self-important, this is one of the first books that abstracted away the callous idea world that we live in now, to remind me that welfare means people who are hungry, or that the minimum wage means how real people can live, or that labor rights means people being with their children. All those ideas, all those little boxes we put them in sound so sterile and negotiable.

In a day where we're arguing that torture is a bad idea because it produces bad intelligence (would it matter if it produced good intelligence?), in a day where we cannot afford to stop genocide and starvation, but we can afford the people who rise up against in sheer desperate hunger and despair, we've gotten too far away from what it means to suffer, we've forgotten it as a country. John Steinbeck reminds me, still.

Thanks, John Steinbeck.