The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck book)

Published 2021-03-21

I came to this having read Of Mice and Men but nothing else by Steinbeck. I expected it to remind me of The Road (Cormac McCarthy) and Lonesome Dove (Larry McMurtry), and it did. Like those books, it’s basically about poor, competent white people travelling across America during hard times, being very kind to each other and defending themselves against hostile strangers.

Unlike those books, The Grapes of Wrath has more blatant literary and political ambitions: there are clear biblical allusions, there is an anti-capitalist agenda, and every other chapter is a poetical vignette that does nothing to advance the main plot. Because of these elements, there is less of a focus on storytelling, which meant I was often bored. I think if the book had simply told the story of the Joad family—which would have cut the page count by about 30%—it would have had more of an impact on me. I will confess that I don’t entirely understand why this book earned Steinbeck the Nobel Prize, but maybe that’s because I didn’t read it with any guidance. Still, I liked it, and could see myself returning to it someday.

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