www.mozilla.com Weather Central
Voices
Headlines

Open meetings -7/24/2014, 8:07 AM

Leadership change needed -7/24/2014, 8:07 AM

Vote for Huelskamp -7/24/2014, 8:06 AM

Protecting unborn children -7/24/2014, 8:06 AM

Learning experience valuable -7/24/2014, 8:06 AM

False equivalence -7/23/2014, 8:07 AM

Measles' scary comeback -7/23/2014, 1:27 PM

The 'big data' deal -7/23/2014, 10:07 AM

GOP can't get out of its own way -7/23/2014, 10:07 AM

War only will add to Middle East problems -7/22/2014, 8:10 AM

Avoiding taxes -7/22/2014, 8:10 AM

Take the win in Iran -7/21/2014, 8:57 AM

The high court's high-handedness -7/21/2014, 8:57 AM

Up in arms in the Capitol -7/20/2014, 4:52 PM

Firefighters weigh in on pay raise -7/20/2014, 4:52 PM

Backpacks for Kids -7/20/2014, 4:52 PM

Our unwillingness to defend ourselves -7/18/2014, 10:51 AM

Remembering a man who championed freedom -7/18/2014, 10:51 AM

GOP split -7/17/2014, 8:38 AM

New Kansas senator -7/17/2014, 8:37 AM

Who'll build the roads? -7/17/2014, 8:37 AM

Reagan: In or out? -7/16/2014, 2:45 PM

'Unbroken' WWII vet more than a hero -7/16/2014, 2:44 PM

Savor the fruits of your labor -7/16/2014, 2:44 PM

Erasing candidate's standards -7/15/2014, 11:36 AM

Returning to Trail Wood -7/15/2014, 10:13 AM

Leaving some in 'suspense' -7/15/2014, 10:13 AM

Strangers in a remarkable land -7/14/2014, 9:11 AM

Courageous or spineless? Our actions decide -7/14/2014, 9:11 AM

Ambition: An unlikely gift to Kansas voters -7/13/2014, 11:16 AM

Beyond the outrage -7/13/2014, 11:16 AM

Water watch -7/13/2014, 11:16 AM

Scenic outlooks -7/11/2014, 9:18 AM

China's research trumps teaching -7/11/2014, 9:17 AM

Important slow news -7/10/2014, 9:42 AM

We've got a promise to keep -7/10/2014, 9:33 AM

The white combine calls -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Vote for family values -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Politicians making a mockery of my faith -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Missing tribute -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Rural students deserve 21st Century education -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

The education table dance -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

A new virus -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

Government as God -7/7/2014, 9:38 AM

EPA affecting others -7/7/2014, 9:38 AM

'Narrow' decision from the narrow-minded -7/7/2014, 9:38 AM

The tax trap -7/6/2014, 4:35 PM

Rulings produce 'First Amendment fireworks' -7/6/2014, 4:35 PM

Firefighter salaries -7/6/2014, 4:35 PM

Economic freedom -7/4/2014, 11:54 AM

Protecting our independence -7/4/2014, 11:54 AM

Dan Johnson, 1936-2014 -7/3/2014, 7:12 AM

New Iraq offensive backfires -7/3/2014, 7:11 AM

Setting things straight -7/3/2014, 7:11 AM

'Crapitalism' -7/3/2014, 7:11 AM

Feeding peace throughout the world -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Half way is still only half way -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Sherow a better choice -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Fireworks, part II -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Reality show made in Topeka -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

The justices and their cellphones -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

LOB defeated -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

Tragedy explored in 'Broken Heart Land' -6/30/2014, 9:14 AM

Mexico City: The adventure continues -6/30/2014, 9:14 AM

Even our youngest Americans are citizens -6/29/2014, 12:58 PM

Ban on fireworks -6/29/2014, 12:58 PM

It's time to teach active citizenship -6/29/2014, 12:57 PM

The education establishment's success -6/27/2014, 10:39 AM

Piecework professors -6/27/2014, 10:39 AM

Marriage for all -6/27/2014, 10:39 AM

Prairie chicken madness -6/26/2014, 4:17 PM

Omission control -6/26/2014, 10:12 AM

Equal in the eyes of the law -6/26/2014, 10:12 AM

Help wanted -6/26/2014, 10:12 AM

The old red barn -6/25/2014, 9:19 AM

Beware the unimaginable -6/25/2014, 9:19 AM

Early critic of school testing was right -6/24/2014, 8:53 AM

Finding something 'different' in Topeka -6/24/2014, 8:53 AM

Shopping small -6/24/2014, 8:53 AM

Into the classroom -6/23/2014, 8:55 AM

Wow! And thanks to you -6/23/2014, 8:55 AM

Fireworks double-standard -6/23/2014, 8:55 AM

Glass half full -6/22/2014, 5:57 PM

Brownback's experiment wallops taxpayers -6/22/2014, 5:56 PM

Examining the importance of 'where' we speak -6/22/2014, 5:56 PM

Slavery reparations -6/20/2014, 8:33 AM

'Help me plagiarize' -6/20/2014, 8:33 AM

Thank a farmer -6/20/2014, 8:33 AM

Here comes tomorrow -6/19/2014, 8:43 AM

Why Americans dislike soccer -6/19/2014, 8:43 AM

Switching to teaching -6/18/2014, 4:32 PM

Clinic closing good -6/17/2014, 9:59 AM

Other avenues -6/17/2014, 9:59 AM

Land grabs -6/17/2014, 9:59 AM

Lending a helping hand -6/17/2014, 9:59 AM

Mariel revisited -6/17/2014, 9:59 AM

Making for some summer fun -6/17/2014, 9:59 AM

Enough is enough -6/16/2014, 9:24 AM

What happened to April, May revenues? -6/16/2014, 9:24 AM

The VA and the Indians: Business as usual -6/16/2014, 9:24 AM

myTown Calendar

SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

'Grapes of Wrath' resonates 75 years later

Published on -4/28/2014, 9:58 AM

Printer-friendly version
E-Mail This Story

It was an angry book.

Much of the response was angry, too. Some towns banned it; some towns burned it. Every town talked about it.

"The Grapes of Wrath" was published 75 years ago this month, a seminal masterpiece of American literature that seems freshly relevant to this era of wealth disparity, rapacious banks and growing poverty. John Steinbeck introduced readers to the Joads, a poor, proud clan of Depression-era Oklahoma farmers who set out for the promised land of California in a rickety truck after their own land dries up and blows away and the bank seizes what little is left.

Perhaps you remember from English class -- or the 1940 film starring Henry Fonda -- what happens next, how misfortune piles on misfortune and loss piles on loss, the promises of the promised land receding like a wave from shore. Perhaps you remember how Tom Joad, the decent everyman, becomes radicalized with the realization of how heavily the deck is stacked against him and his. Perhaps you remember what he promises his mother as he prepares to flee after killing a brutal strikebreaker in blind fury.

"Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. ... I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an' I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build -- why, I'll be there."

The anger of John Steinbeck's novel, its litany of indignity and unfairness, galvanized a national dialogue on poverty and the exploitation of workers that reached even into the White House, where Eleanor Roosevelt was inspired to visit a migrant laborers camp to see the conditions herself.

Seventy-five years later, in the wake of the worst economic catastrophe since that time, one is glad to hear faint echoes of the novel's anger in a population that has seemed docile and somnambulant even as the American Dream was being dismantled around them. One is gratified by the Occupy movement, unfocused as it was, that sprang up three years ago, by the chanting of fast-food workers demanding a living wage, by the lacerating fury of a Bruce Springsteen song.

"Send the robber barons straight to hell, the greedy thieves who came around and ate the flesh of everything they found," he growls in 2012's "Death to My Hometown."

These are the sounds and actions of people waking up. Steinbeck likely would approve.

The final pages of his book find the Joads reduced to almost nothing, pushed out, flooded out, family members dying, others just gone. Then daughter Rosasharn goes into labor. The baby is stillborn.

"Never breathed ... never was alive."

But there is always someone who has it worse and, sheltering from the flood in someone's barn, the Joads meet him, a man so shriveled by hunger he can't take solid food. Rosasharn, her breasts heavy with milk her dead baby will never use, knows what she must do.

Viewed from the perch of an I-got-mine era, a let-'em-eat-cake era, a bling era where net worth equals self worth and the denigration of the poor is a staple of cable TV news, the thing she does may seem confounding. Which says less about it than about us, and the lost ideal of common humanity.

But it is precisely that ideal Steinbeck insists upon, and that insistence resonates even across a gulf of 75 years. Huddled in a borrowed shelter, Rosasharn draws the dying man to her. She cradles this stranger and nurses him. Reduced to only her body, only her self, she gives that.

It is a lesson for then, for now, forever. We are human beings. There is one comfort we're meant to have even when we have nothing else.

Each other.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist]

for the Miami Herald.

lpitts@miamiherald.com

digg delicious facebook stumbleupon google Newsvine
More News and Photos

Associated Press Videos