Monday, March 17, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath and a Few Rabbits

I had forgotten how flawless this Steinbeck piece is until I picked it up this weekend...and didn't put it down until I was done. This was the first "grown-up" book I can recall reading - one I chose on my own, and one that didn't require a book report. Shortly after finishing the novel, the movie turned up on a Milwaukee TV station . We had a small TV with rabbit ears that picked up the Green Bay stations nicely. With some finnagling, others stations came in and, even though they faded in and out, I was able to watch parts of the movie. I remember that on this particular day, the rabbit ears worked just fine when I had one hand on them at all times. That's how I watched the entire movie...hanging on to the rabbit ears for dear life, lest I lose the Joads in a technical snowstorm to rival the dust bowl that was already challenging them.

Each year I try to read, or in this case, re-read, a classic. I'd like to sneak a Shakespeare and a Dickens in each year also, but that's not working as well. This book is rich in imagery and layers of meaning. Reading it now is certainly different than reading it at 15. I'm sure I found richness in it for different reasons then. Did I understand then that the title came from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", and echoed even farther back to a passage from Revelations? Did I catch the fact that Steinbeck named this family that refuses to surrender to misfortune "Joad ", which sound a lot like "Job?" I know I caught the turtle metaphor , though. It fascinated me when I first read it, and had the same impact this time around. Steinbeck told the entire plight of those brave people in that single, eloquent passage.

What stuck me most this time were the parallels to today. Again, we have people in fear of losing their homes due to financial oppression; people are re-evaluating the meaning of the American Dream and finding it no longer means a three-car garage, a vacation home, and money left at the end of the month. The dream is simpler now - a house, a family, and a steady job. The need to solve problems cooperatively resounds as a major theme.

Steinbeck won the Pulitzer, and the Nobel Prize for Literature for The Grapes of Wrath. Woody Guthrie morphed the story into "The Ballad of Tom Joad" and Bruce Sprinsteen was inspired to title an early album "The Ghost of Tom Joad."

These are a couple of my favorite bunny books: