Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath- A Book for These Times

"The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it."

That is a passage taken from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I think most of us read it when we were kids at some point. Recently, though to be honest my conscious self was not completely aware of why I was feeling the need, I wanted to read it again. I see now I needed to read it to try and understand better what is happening all over the world right now.

The world over the working people feel disheartened. The future seems uncertain. Jobs are disappearing. The environment is degraded to such an extent that many have accepted that it may never recover. Governments, meant to protect us, are shrinking, on the verge of collapse. Democracy, true democracy - a government of the people- is disappearing. Growing food is no longer a way to make a living and yet people starve. No matter where you look- Greece, The United States, France, Nigeria, Botswana, India- the people suffer. Why is this so? Can anything fix it?

In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family are forced from their farm in Oklahoma. They can no longer pay the loans they were forced into because the environment is degraded and the fields can no longer produce enough. The bank takes their land to be given to the big farmers to make better profits and the Joads must head to California with next to nothing where they've been told there is a better life waiting for them.

Throughout the book, Steinbeck tries to show how if only the people, people from all over the country in the same situation as the Joads, could join together to fight the banks and the corporations and their commitment to profits over everything else- over people, over the environment- then the people could win. But the people are fearful. They been told such talk is "red" talk. Such troublemakers will come to no good. The debate defined by the ones in power, the ones who want to keep things exactly as they are.

Every aspect of this book resonates with what is happening in the world today in 2012,and yet the book was published in 1939. Often people ask- what is the use of literature up against the problems of humankind, especially in a developing country like Botswana? What is the use?

I think The Grapes of Wrath shows the use. This book illustrates the problems caused by the rampant greed of corporations in a way that a true story could not. It allows the reader to understand the problem in a more intimate way through the struggles of the Joads. And in this case, it allows the author to speak, 73 years later, to give us clues to the answers for what ails our planet. Answers brought to me, crystal clear ,through the words written on a page by a single, lonely, frustrated writer so long ago. Can there be anything more important than that?

6 comments:

OneStonedCrow said...

Yes, it's time I re-read the book ...

Personally, I feel that we are reaching a critical mass and that the lifestyle we know is on the brink of collapse - there will be much chaos and death ...

Civilisations have disappeared before.

A pessimistic view I know, but perhaps something better will emerge from the ashes ...

Lauri said...

You know what Graham I don't actually see that as a pesimistic view. I think the only way to break the back of corporate greed is to dismantle the corporations. This can happen fast or slow, but it must happen so we can get back to what it means to be human.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Gosh, I have been away a long time! Love your new blog look, Lauri!

And, like OneStonedCrow, I need to re-read this book. It's a brilliant read, with timeless themes.

And, yes, we are on the brink of great changes in human civilisations and we can just hope that from the ashes of the past millennia, we as a species learn to build the foundations for a better world, not one which just reshapes the old corruptions and abuses into a different form...

Judy, South Africa

Selma said...

Yes, Lauri. I completely agree. Steinbeck was an incredible social commenter. That 'The Grapes Of Wrath' is still relevant today doesn't surprise me at all, but it saddens me. It saddens me that 73 years after Steinbeck wrote this amazing novel, the issues raised have yet to be resolved.

Steinbeck and George Orwell have had a very big influence on my personal ideology. They were almost prophetic in their warnings to us about the insidious nature of corporations. Yet even now when I mention to people that I still read both of those authors they accuse me of being a socialist. Rather than face the issues raised they attack me personally.

The people are afraid. They are very afraid. The corporations are dehumanising society. But I believe we can fight them. The pen is mightier than shareholder profits. I'll fight to the end on this issue.

Extremely well said, Lauri. Hear hear!!!

Helen Ginger said...

Great post. It is amazing how relevant the book is to today's politics and problems.

Val said...

I read Great Expectations recently and was amazed at how timeless and relevant the human element was there too. Guess thats what makes a classic. The Grapes of Wrath - Imust revisit now too . thanks!