Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The 'Terrible Swift Sword' of the Depression: Enter John Steinbeck

The year 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath.  The book won the National Book Award in 1939 and, a year later, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  Many Americans only know this great American classic because of John Ford’s 1940 film that starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.

The book has inspired folk songs, theatrical adaptations, the film, and much discussion.   Steinbeck’s title is taken from Revelations 14:19 and the 1861 song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  It provides a symbolic connection with the story as Steinbeck moves his characters to “the promised land” of California. This movement provides an excellent connection because the author created The Grapes of Wrath to focus on economic exploitation in Depression-era California.

As a result, the book angered and moved Americans when it appeared in 1939 and has since remained one of the most widely debated novels in American letters. It has been called “painstakingly accurate, utterly false, obscene, utopian, apolitical, and profoundly political.” When it was written, the text brought about questions regarding the apparent failure of the American Dream.  It was banned from schools and libraries in Steinbeck’s home county of Salinas California  until 1941.

The Grapes of Wrath leaves us with much to discuss and consider regarding the events of the Depression.  Come by the library to examine the display and take a look at the resources that relate to Steinbeck and his work as well as resources about the Great Depression in America.  Check out one of these resources and discover that there is much to be learned from the events of America’s past.

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