Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of WrathThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the flood of ink over the years regarding the Grapes of Wrath, I sort of regard my opinion about the book to be much on the order of Ma's reaction to Rosasharne's worries about sin:

“Rosasharn, you’re jest one person, an’ they’s a lot of other folks. You git to your proper place. I knowed people built theirself up with sin till they figgered they was big mean shucks in the sight a the Lord.’’
“But, Ma——’’
“No. Jes’ shut up an’ git to work. You ain’t big enough or mean enough to worry God much. An’ I’m gonna give you the back a my han’ if you don’ stop this pickin’ at yourself.’’
Steinbeck, John (2006-03-28). The Grapes of Wrath (p. 367). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I ain't big enough or smart enough to worry the literate much with my petty views.  I think the best thing I have seen on this book was a comment by RitaSkeeter in the Classics For Beginners group discussion at Goodreads.  See message 104 at:

I wonder if the difference for me, is that East of Eden was a definite story about people and their lives. Whereas, with GoW it feels more like Steinbeck is trying to capture an era, a period of history. So the dialect, the essay chapters, all become necessary for helping him re-create that period and show the lives of many different people, in a way that a straight saga focusing on a particular family, like that East of Eden - wouldn't be able to achieve.

The book struck me as being overly theatrical (especially when listening to the Audible version) yet still there is something about this book that speaks to the Soul directly.  As Rita stated above, Steinbeck captures the era and as he himself wrote

"I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects]." He famously said, "I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags."

And rip your nerves to rags he does.  The feeling of desperation at the end of the book is just overwhelming.   It is sort of like the paintings of Thomas Hart Benton, they are cartoonish and often over sexualized and yet you find yourself staring at them in awe,  gleaning the truth they contain.

While I don't have much to add to the mountain of reviews for the book, I would like to point out some nice features in the Penguin Classics edition for Kindle and the whisper synched Audible version.

NOTE: CURRENTLY, if you buy the Kindle version first, you can get the Audible version at a considerable discount.

These two editions are synched so that you can maintain your place across devices, and if you have a device that supports it (Kindle Fire Tablet), you can do the Immersion Reading.  Immersion reading is where you read the Kindle book and listen to it simultaneously.  The pages flip automatically and a moving cursor highlights the exact text as it plays.  I find this feature to be really nice when reading the classics, and with much of the conversation written in dialect, it was very helpful with the Grapes of Wrath.

This Penguin Classic version has an extensive introductory essay by Robert DeMott that explains the book and Steinbeck's motivations and goals for the book.  It also contains numerous automated footnotes that explains a terminology or reference that may not be apparent to the modern reader.

An example:

"He’s a nice sort of a guy when he ain’t stinko.“ 1

1 stinko: U.S. slang meaning intoxicated with alcohol.

I have read the Penguin Editions for some of the other classics, and while they are generally more expensive than the other editions (older classics often have free Kindle versions) I think the benefits of these explanatory footnotes are worth the extra cost.

Regarding the Audible version, it was nothing short of magnificent.  The narrator, Dylan Baker, gave a wonderful performance.

In my mind Baker captured the voices and the atmosphere of the novel perfectly.  Some of the other versions I sampled sounded like a high school play in comparison.  My only complaint with this version is the few bars of harmonica music that ends each chapter.  If you like harmonica music, you may find this a big plus.  To me it was irritating at first but I got used to it.  I would imagine it would neither make nor break the book for most people.

If Grapes of Wrath is on your list of reads, I would highly recommend both of these versions.  Even if you do not own a device that supports Immersion Reading, you can still listen to the Audible version on a MP-3 player and read the book on any Kindle device or even a DTB.  You just have to flip the pages yourself.  Excellent book, excellent written version, and an excellent Audible version.  Five Stars Plus!

It is also the source of on of my favorite quotes:

“Wisht I knowed what all the sins was, so I could do ’em.” pg 388.

I read this back when I was a is amazing what you can forget in 50 years.

View all my reviews

Thomas Hart Benton:

Note:  Click on image to see full size.

Somewhat cartoonish:  Achelous and Hercules 1947"Thomas Hart Benton - Achelous and Hercules - Smithsonian" by Thomas Hart Benton - This file was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of a cooperation project.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

And sometimes overly sexualized:  Persephone, 1939
Image Credit:  University of Virginia,  Benton Gallery