Saturday, January 01, 2011

Book of the Month: The Grapes of Wrath

Most of the members of my father's extended family were Oklahoma sharecroppers for several generations, until the deadly combination of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl devastation of the 1930s drove them off the land and to the west, where they would face a new brand of poverty, humiliation and starvation in California, Oregon and Washington.

My new book of the month is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which tells in harrowing detail the plight of "Okie" Dust Bowl refugees in their flight to what they hopefully but erroneously thought would be greener pastures, oranges free for the picking off of trees, high wages and lots of work.

Reading it, for me, is like reading a biography of my own family. But the book is far more than that, and it's a necessary reminder of the kind of society that the Teabaggers and the everything-for-the-rich Republicans want to take us back to. It's not a pretty sight, but I think periodically the rest of us need to be reminded of those "good old days" that they want to see come around again.

No one can read this book without getting pissed off at a country that would allow this kind of thing to happen.

BONUS: While you are reading The Grapes of Wrath, I recommend popping this great Woody Guthrie CD into your player and listening to it. It's Dust Bowl Ballads, a terrific compilation of songs that also describe the hell that was the 1930s flight of the Dust Bowl Refugees.

Both John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie made the trip west along with the migrant worker "Okies" they wrote about, which is why both of these works have that distinctive ring of truth about them that you just can't make up. I am a writer--trust me on this.

Since my father had been untimely ripped from his childhood, the draw of Oklahoma was strong in him, as it often is in those who suffer from a sudden dislocation in their youth. So in 1950 he moved back to NE Oklahoma, dragging me and my mother along with him. We spent five years on a dairy farm near Bristow, until the draconian agricultural policies of Ezra Taft Benson, Dwight Eisenhower's secretary of agriculture (who was later elevated to the lofty perch of "Prophet, Seer and Revelator" of the Moron Mormon Church), drove us into poverty once more and we were forced to again abandon the land and move west. While it wasn't close to the great migration of the 30s, it was personally disruptive to me, as it had once been to my father.

With I think the same motivations that once drove my father back to the state of his birth and childhood, I managed to make several trips back over the years. But I never even considered moving back there. Oklahoma had changed, and so had I. In a state that in the first two decades of the 20th Century had elected a huge number of Agrarian Socialists to office, Oklahoma managed to drive itself as far to the right as it could, ridiculously culminating in this year's ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to prohibit the establishment of Sharia Law(!) in the state. As if that was a problem. But what can you expect from a voting public -- part of the Moron-American Voting Bloc --that is willing to elect a professional dickhead and crypto-Fascist like Tom Coburn to the US Senate?

Anyway, The Grapes of Wrath and Dust Bowl Ballads: Get them, read one and listen to the other. You will not be sorry.


Anonymous said...

Guthrie's music is especially poignant for me, partly because my grandfather lost two farms during the depression, but also because I have one cousin who died of Huntington's Disease and another who is nearing the middle stages of it now. Huntington's is the disease the killed Guthrie.

Farnsworth68 said...

Thanks, anon. And who can forget those poignant scenes between Arlo Guthrie and the actor playing his dying father Woody in the classic Alice's Restaurant?
--The F Man

NetAgra said...

The Worst Hard Times
T. Egan

About the people who stayed. Mention of Guthrie, state and national politics.

Grapes of Wrath changed my life. Read it while attending a one-room country school with 8 grades. Best damn library evar!

Farnsworth68 said...

Thanks NA.
Here's a clickable link to that book. I'd not heard of it, but it appears to be a pretty good read.
--The F Man