Words mean exactly what I want them to mean
Humpty Dumpty via Lewis Carrol
What's crazy is that a rare masterpiece of a book was actually made into a masterpiece of a movie.
I'm used to a masterpiece being decided as much by the medium as the content. I can think of great books making good movies and great movies being made from decent books, But almost no great movies coming from great books.
I think its a testament to John Ford that the hardest thing about reading the book is shaking the near indelible images from the film. And its a testament to John Steinbeck that it doesn't take long for Tom Joad to be talking in his own voice instead of Henry Fonda's, and for the Preacher to become something big and real instead of a creation of John Carradine's.
They're both great works and they stand independently without complimenting each other. They remain unique and special each unto themselves. I think this is mainly due to the brilliance of the story. Stories about people finding their own way in a terrible land full of promise, promise withheld from the people, are always the stuff that fires up my imagination, It's the sort of story that creates values and gives a vivid purpose to morals.
The book is what's in front of me now. We know the story, the dust storms and the banks that created the depression. The rich bastards that perpetuated the depression for their own self serving purposes.
In the book the enemy is spelled out plain: "when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the oppressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression."
One of the things that sets literature apart from fiction is the ability of the writer to touch a stone and to see that stone from the gravel pit and into a future that exceeds his own generation's lifetime.
Steinbeck in telling the simple tragedy of the Joads driving a clunker 2,000 miles has set the stage for myth and metaphor. The simple plight of one family is amplified through it's present into ours so that people become symbols and names fail the reality and the names become us.
Explicit in "Grapes of Wrath" is the rise of the Populist movement in America. Populism terrified the big owners. They had to brand it with false names calling the adherents commies and reds. They were no such thing.
Populism believed in keeping people alive. It believed in self government , in supporting yourself and each other. It believed in feeding the children and in giving a man the dignity befitting a human being. Not very lofty ambitions.
The billionaires called the populists, reds, thugs, they called them an evil that would destroy America and they refused to let them alone and worked their hardest to destroy them. Steinbeck summed it up, "And the great owners, who had become through their holdings both more and less than men, ran to their destruction, and used every means that in the long run would destroy them. Every little means, every violence, every raid on a Hooverville, every deputy swaggering through a ragged camp put off the day a little and cemented the inevitability of the day."
See, the Koch Brothers haven't done anything new. They learned a few things. They appropriated the populist moniker and replaced swaggering deputies with racist young people and soft frightened old people. They used fear to motivate the people who don't have enough to arm them against the people who don't have anything. Then they went after the unions, the workers, while they acquire and force out the small businessman while telling the small businessman it is all the fault of those other guys. The Koch Brothers and their allies scream: It's the Chinese or the Koreans or the Japanese and its your next door neighbor. It is everyone but me. And all we do we do to protect you until you become one of them.
Populism was bought with blood and gunfire and some of the blood was that of starved to death babies and all of it was from people who just wanted to work and have a home and enough to eat to stay alive. What we have today are the jack booted owners appropriating a name in an effort to side step the real suffering they are causing.
A better example of Tea Party faux populism is seen clearly in the film, "Meet John Doe" which is related to Steinbeck in its populist views and its view of the many by exploring the plight of the few. In "Meet john Doe" a genuine populist movement is financed then used and abused for personal gain by Eddy Arnold. Of course, in the movie as in real life, the populist characters survive the horrid abuse and exploitation because the faith in fellow man is greater than the faith in governments and establishments.
The book "Grapes of Wrath" is bleak because a world controlled by people who have forgotten their humanity in favor of acquisition is a terrible and bleak thing. The world of Ayn Rand jerks is a desolate and an unrich place not fit for habitation even by her adherents. Deeper and of great beauty is the life of those poor who struggle along and learn to live together with each other who see life as a small chance at pleasure and happiness.
"Grapes of Wrath" is a great book, meaning it's entertaining, lively with a story to tell about people.When you tell a great story about people you manage to become pretty all encompassing, not sodden or turgid but inspirational even in despair.