Saturday, April 5, 2014


This month is the 75th anniversary of one of America’s most celebrated books of the twentieth century.  That book is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Published in 1939, the novel became an immediate bestseller and was soon banned for a story considered controversial by some. The epic book takes place during the Great Depression of the 1930s and tells the story of the members of the Joad family who are forced to abandon their farm in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma. Setting out with many other poverty-stricken souls who share the dream of a promised land in California, the Joads discover that life as migrant workers there is just as poor and unfair as at home. The themes of injustice, inequality and the need to hang onto human dignity run deep in this majestic novel, but many called it an attack on America. 

The title is taken from a lyric in the hymn The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

When John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath he had already written other major works, including The Red Pony, Tortilla Flat and Of Mice and Men.  Cannery Row, East of Eden and Travels with Charley were still to come. In 1940 Grapes won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and in 1962 Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature. When he died in 1968 his crowning achievements were not his prizes, but his books that continue to be read and discussed.  

The Monrovia Public Library owns Steinbeck’s books and the DVD of the film The Grapes of Wrath. The 1940 movie is celebrated as one of the finest American films. Directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad and Jane Darwell as Ma Joad, the film sensitively captures the essence of the book. 

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