Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath

‘Death was a friend, and sleep was Death’s brother…’

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Obviously I would never presume to be qualified to add anything new about one of the most famous books ever written, so instead, this is purely how I felt whilst reading The Grapes of Wrath rather than any kind of critical analysis. I have read a fair amount of classic literature in the last two years and I enjoyed The Grapes of Wrath as much as anything else I have read. As a simple tale of an American family trying to survive during The Great Depression it is a heartbreaking masterpiece, but it is as a social commentary on capitalism and the American Dream that The Grapes of Wrath really cements it’s status as a classic of American literature.

Having read Of Mice and Men, I was prepared for The Grapes of Wrath to not exactly be a barrel of laughs, but it really is relentlessly bleak. I never thought I would read something even more upsetting than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road but The Grapes of Wrath definitely takes some beating. The fact that I combined reading it, with listening to every Radiohead album back to back for a different article, was perhaps a mistake, as I have taken to looking into the middle distance a lot, whilst a single tear runs down my fat cheek.

On a serious note though Steinbeck’s use of language is breathtaking at times and the authors passion and anger is never far from the prose. It is in the passages that are not part of the central story that this anger bubbles over into long impassioned essays that rival George Orwell and Jonathan Swift in terms of being a grim warning as well as biting social satire. It is almost sad that Grapes of Wrath is just as pertinent today as when it was published in 1939. The greed of the few continues to have dire consequences for the many.

 

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