The Grapes of Wrath: Book Report

The *truly* impressive thing is that I finished it.

Good:

  • Steinbeck writes very cleanly.
  • Probably a useful depiction of a slice of life during the Great Depression (although… well, see below).
  • Makes me glad I wasn’t a destitute farmer in (fictionalized) California during the 30s.

Bad:

  • I swear there were blocking problems everywhere in this book. Was never sure who was in the scene or where in the scene they were — and this often mattered.
  • Probably about twice as long as it should have been.
  • It lacks event — essentially, this is a 400-page vignette. Very little in the way of plot or tension.
  • There are certainly character arcs (Ma has the strongest, Casy obviously, Tom sure, Al sort of, Pa sort of, John should have but didn’t), but they’re just arcs. There are no epiphanies. Ma probably transcended herself, but she wasn’t the focus of the novel for the most part. No one else seemed inclined toward overcoming anything. And Ma’s development felt pretty arbitrary.
  • While it might be a useful depiction of real life during the Depression, Steinbeck hammers his themes home with such ferocity that I’m inclined to worry that what was depicted may have been skewed to fit his needs.
  • Man, but the PoV wandered. Wonder if that woman who taught that extension class at UCI knows about this…
  • The interstitial chapters, the ones that talked in generalities but then didn’t, felt cloying, like they were trying too hard to be something.
  • The climax was teased hard and obviously from Page One on, but no part of it started resolving until 80% of the way through. And then it was very, very sudden.

Meh. I liked Of Mice and Men a lot better. For one thing, it was the right length.

Disappointed,

bkd

5 comments

  • telkontar

    Dickens got paid by the word. It shows.

    But he has a sympathetic outlook towards mankind. I read a Dickensian work about once every decade.

  • bkdunn

    I think Steinbeck is sympathetic and even optimistic enough — just long-winded. Although I can see if I’d had to read this one for high school that I would have found it very tolerable (for a book I *had* to read). Maybe in another decade I’ll tackle Cannery Row.

    • bkdunn

      Liked Travels, but was a little underwhelmed. (A whole three weeks to see the country, John? Wow!) Haven’t read Cannery Row, but maybe won’t. Felt too burned by the whole Grapes of Wrath thing.

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