Posted by: Jeanie F | July 21, 2014

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and the US Immigration Crisis

alaska-grapes-of-wrath-steinbeck (1)

In my last post I mentioned that this is the 75th anniversary of the publication of Grapes of Wrath. After rereading The Harvest Gypsies, I just had to go back and reread Grapes of Wrath. I remembered what an impact it had on me the first time I read it – probably in high school – and the two or three times I’ve read it since. Still, it’s been quite a while, and I wanted it to be fresh in my mind for my upcoming trip to the Steinbeck Museum.

Reading it against the backdrop of my recent rereading of The Harvest Gypsies enhanced the experience because of the factual information provided by Steinbeck’s reporting. I also took the opportunity to watch the Ken Burns’ PBS special, “The Dust Bowl.” If you haven’t seen it, and are interested in this critical time in our country’s past, I highly recommend it. You can also get great information from the PBS website, http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl.

I’m happy to report that my experience of returning to this classic didn’t disappoint. Even knowing exactly how it would turn out, I cheered the Joads on, hoping not only against hope but against prior knowledge of the ending, that things would work out well for them. This is a family you love – Ma, with her good sense and indomitable spirit; Tom, the rock of the family in spite of his hot head and difficult past; even self-centered Rose of Sharon who endures, if not stoically, such difficult times.

Since I can’t imagine that those of you who read this blog aren’t already familiar with the book, I won’t spend any time reviewing it. I’ll only say this: if you haven’t, you really should. It’s a great story both as literature and as social commentary. And is as relevant today as it was seventy-five years ago.

While I normally stay far away from political commentary on this blog, the close juxtaposition between reading the Joads’ experience in California and that of 57,000 Central Americans seeing refuge here today, it is impossible not to make comparisons. In fact, many of us have been following the immigration crisis currently underway along our Southwestern borders. We’ve watched Americans scream at small children and their mothers, who are fleeing violence and poverty in their native country. We’ve watched busloads of American mothers carrying signs: “Jesus wouldn’t break the law” (really???), and “Go home – we don’t want you.” This weekend was designated “National Days of Protest Against Immigration Reform Amnesty & the Illegal Immigration Surge.”

We like to think we are a kinder and more compassionate nation than the one about which Steinbeck has one Californian say of the “Okies” flooding into the state, “They bring diseases, they’re filthy. We can’t have them in the schools. They’re strangers.”

Obviously, to our national disgrace, we’re not.

Grade: A+


Responses

  1. Your commentary on the Central American refugee children is timely and appropriate. I saw one woman shouting “not our kids, not our problem.” I hope we think of kids as more than just a problem to be dealt with. What about the promise and potential of young lives?

    • Not to mention the trafficking, forced participation in criminal gangs, and other forms of societal child abuse. I would ask when we became so heartless, but it looks like we have a long history of it.


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