Notes from the Library

Tue, 27 Mar 2012

This lunchtime I finished reading the Grapes of Wrath which has been enthralling me for the past ten days or so. I found myself really enjoying the book all the way until the end where it sort of petered out. The book alternates between longer chapters following the story of a family of migrant workers, the Joads, on their journey west to and then around California, and shorter chapters discussing the general plight of migrant workers in those lands. I think the book is arguing against the effects of free market capitalism, and it does this very well all the way until the end, where as I say, I found myself disappointed that things weren’t really wrapped up. Neither the shorter nor the longer chapters really concluded, and the final longer chapters dragged on a great deal: it was as if Steinbeck had run out of things to do with the Joads, or something.

The characters of the family are pretty simple, and this is nice—it makes them stand out when they do really interesting things.

Here are quotations I noted down when reading, not organised, just copied/pasted:

Beside them, little pot-bellied men in light suits and panama hats; clean, pink men with puzzled, worried eyes, with restless eyes. Worried because formulas do not work out; hungry for security and yet sensing its disappearance from the earth. In their lapels the insignia of lodges and service clubs, places where they can go and, by a weight of numbers of little worried men, reassure themselves that business is noble and not the curious ritualized thievery they know it is; that business men are intelligent in spite of the records of their stupidity; that they are kind and charitable in spite of the principles of sound business; that their lives are rich instead of the thin tiresome routines they know; and that a time is coming when they will not be afraid any more.

Rose of Sharon looked helplessly at the old woman. She said softly, "She's awful sick." Ma raised her eyes to the girl's face. Ma's eyes were patient, but the lines of strain were on her forehead. Ma fanned and fanned the air, and her piece of cardboard warned off the flies. "When you're young, Rosasharn, ever'thing that happens is a thing all by itself. It's a lonely thing. I know, I 'member, Rosasharn." Her mouth loved the name of her daughter. "You're gonna have a baby, Rosasharn, and that's somepin to you lonely and away. That's gonna hurt you, an' the hurt'll be lonely hurt, an' this here tent is alone in the worl', Rosasharn." She whipped the air for a moment to drive a buzzing blow fly on, and the big shining fly circled the tent twice and zoomed out into the blinding sunlight. And Ma went on, "They's a time of change, an' when that comes, dyin' is a piece of all dyin', and bearin' is a piece of all bearin', an bearin' an' dyin' is two pieces of the same thing. An' then things ain't lonely any more. An' then a hurt don't hurt so bad, cause it ain't a lonely hurt no more, Rosasharn. I wisht I could tell you so you'd know, but I can't." And her voice was so soft, so full of love, that tears crowded into Rose of Sharon's eyes, and flowed over her eyes and blinded her. "Take an' fan Granma," Ma said, and she handed the cardboard to her daughter. "That's a good thing to do. I wisht I could tell you so you'd know." Granma,

I got to lean on you. Them others—they're kinda strangers, all but you. You won't give up, Tom." The job fell on him. "I don' like it," he said. "I wanta go out like Al. An' I wanta get mad like Pa, an' I wanta get drunk like Uncle John." Ma shook her head. "You can't, Tom. I know. I knowed from the time you was a little fella. You can't. They's some folks that's just theirself an' nothin' more. There's Al—he's jus' a young fella after a girl. You wasn't never like that, Tom." "Sure I was," said Tom. "Still am." "No you ain't. Ever'thing you do is more'n you. When they sent you up to prison I knowed it. You're spoke for." "Now, Ma—cut it out. It ain't true. It's all in your head." She stacked the knives and forks on top of the plates. "Maybe. Maybe it's in my head.

"I'm learnin' one thing good," she said. "Learnin' it all a time, ever' day. If you're in trouble or hurt or need—go to poor people. They're the only ones that'll help—the only ones."

Tom paused as he passed the guard. "Got a place where a fella can get a bath, mister?" The guard studied him in the half-light. At last he said, "See that water tank?" "Yeah." "Well, there's a hose over there." "Any warm water?" "Say, who in hell you think you are, J. P. Morgan?" "No," said Tom. "No, I sure don't. Good night, mister." The guard grunted contemptuously. "Hot water, for Christ's sake. Be wantin' tubs next." He stared glumly after the four Joads.

Tom stepped into the water and felt the bottom drop from under his feet.

"Woman can change better'n a man," Ma said soothingly. "Woman got all her life in her arms. Man got it all in his head. Don' you mind. Maybe—well, maybe nex' year we can get a place."

Seems like our life's over an' done." "No, it ain't," Ma smiled. "It ain't, Pa. An' that's one more thing a woman knows. I noticed that. Man, he lives in jerks—baby born an' a man dies, an' that's a jerk—gets a farm an' loses his farm, an' that's a jerk. Woman, it's all one flow, like a stream, little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river, it goes right on. Woman looks at it like that. We ain't gonna die out. People is goin' on—changin' a little, maybe, but goin' right on." "How can you tell?" Uncle John demanded. "What's to keep ever'thing from stoppin'; all the folks from jus' gettin' tired an' layin' down?" Ma considered. She rubbed the shiny back of one hand with the other, pushed the fingers of her right hand between the fingers of her left. "Hard to say," she said. "Ever'thing we do—seems to me is aimed right at goin' on. Seems that way to me. Even gettin' hungry—even bein' sick; some die, but the rest is tougher. Jus' try to live the day, jus' the day." Uncle John said, "If on'y she didn' die that time-" "Jus' live the day," Ma said. "Don' worry yaself."

I haven't read the Grapes of Wrath, but I would comment that it's really interesting that the plotlines weren't wrapped up in that way. It seems that it would be quite different from Of Mice and Men. Although saying that I think that OMaM was done in such a way that the plotlines that weren't resovled were  I was wondering if you'd ever read A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams? If not, I'd highly recommend it.

Sorry if that was really incoherent.

comment posted by Anita Chandran at Thu Mar 29 21:04:47 2012

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