Some literary works are timeless and I think the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is one of them. And what could be more timely given the current economic climate, and given that today is Blog Action Day, than to muse on some of the parallels between the time in which this novel is set and our time?
The most striking parallel, of course, is that the time of The Grapes of Wrath is the Great Depression of the 1930's. The economic collapse and the mass unemployment which followed the stockmarket crash of 1929 form the backdrop, on one level, to the tale of the survival of the Joad family, and on another level, to the resilience of human beings. The Great Depression is a point of reference for understanding the enormityof any recession, because it was the worst in history. A very knowledgeable Geoffery traces the impending recession of our time here, for anyone wanting to read one post that summarizes what you'd have to glean from dozens of different sources and experiences.
Out of this major parallel comes several smaller ones;
-the war time factor,
-mass migration (often illegal, often of Mexicans), the exploitation of these migrants, and how there came a time when desperation drove Americans to compete with migrants for jobs that they otherwise scorned, will history repeat itself?
-climate having a major impact on daily life- then it was drought conditions creating the dust bowl and destroying livelihood as well as food, now it is global warming and all its spin-off effects,
- a sizing up of the current politico-economic systems- whether they work and what are the alternatives.
This is an excellent novel for everyone to read now because it explores the ins and outs of living through a crisis like this. The central message, in the words of Ma Joad, is that "They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people-we go on." Although it is set in America, the novel has universal appeal. The title, taken from the Battle Hymn of the Republic, is pregnant (and you will see that I use this word deliberately) with meanings that are shared by many people the world over. The title signals that the novel will touch on religion, liberty, the anger of the poor, and human interdependence.
I admit, I had to read it in small portions because it is an agonizing story. Yet I read because it was such a compelling story; I had to go with the Joads all the way to California and see how things would turn out for them.
So, as I promised, today I write on the issue of poverty, and I do so by simply echoing the essence of the story of the Joads: in the face of abject poverty, sub-human conditions, in the face of sheer starvation, we people tend to dig deep and find the resources to survive, we tend to acknowledge our need for each other, and we tend to go on.