Arguably the greatest of American classics, The Grapes of Wrath follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation during the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s. In the telling, we follow one such Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California.

This Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression has galvanized, and sometimes outraged, millions of readers.

This was our Monday Night Book Club’s first classic for the year and although it was a hard slog for some of us, the discussion and interest it provoked was worth some effort. If reading Steinbeck for the first time, Grapes can be a little on the daunting side. The colloquial language alone poses a challenge and the plight of the Joad family is not a light-hearted tale, but the power of this novel cannot be overlooked, even by the uninitiated.

The brilliant writing style and characterisation guarantees a great introduction to classic fiction and was not lost on our first time Steinbeck readers. Although it was suggested that the Christmas period was probably not the best time to tackle such a read and some of our group will return to it at a more suitable time.

We discussed some of the historical content and also the human elements of despair and fortitude, both well represented. We marveled at the strength of the female protagonists and wondered at the authenticity of Steinbeck’s characters. Did he know a real Joad family? Or were they taken from brief encounters and the watchful eye of a story-teller? Either way, The Grapes of Wrath is hard to surpass in the world of classic fiction.

 

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