I just finished reading what I consider to be The Great American Novel. And I say that because this Steinbeck book, though written in 1938, still resonates today and if we're lucky, will resonate for the duration. The title was discovered by Carol Steinbeck, Mr. Steinbeck's first wife, and is taken from one of the verses of the famous Julia Ward Howe song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
I once wrote a novel about the ashes of D. H. Lawrence and the early part of the book takes place in a TB Sanitarium in North Carolina. I wanted it, of course, to sound authentic so I researched southern dialects, mostly by speaking with friends who were either living in the South, or had been born in the South and had still retained an accent. The problem, I quickly discovered, was that there were as many different accents as there were friends and family to interview. But I did my best and my agent tried to do her best by advising me that it might be a good idea to drop the attempt at dialect and just write it in English. Liz, if you're reading this, I haven't forgotten. There will come a day...
The genius of John Steinbeck in this novel is that he did his research so well that he came up with an absolutely true accent for the folks he was writing about. It's not North or South or Midwest or West or even East; it's a working class accent that carries the book with both its complexity and simplicity. It is a stroke of genius and allows the story of good honest folk pitted against the Big Business, grammatically better speaking, wolves (sound familiar?) to capture us and wrench our hearts and souls. Just like can happen now, when The Grapes of Wrath first came out, there was a lot of blowback against Mr. Steinbeck regarding his portrayal of the big bad business guys. And just like now, the bad guys were in a position of power to control the workers both financially and politically. It was a horrific circumstance for people who were quite literally starving to death. History can and does repeat itself, or else it keeps going along the same way and we just don't pay close enough attention all the other times.
I am absolutely stunned at the grace and power that this book possesses. But some of it, I might have personalized. Like the Joads, my father was a victim of the Dust Bowl period. He was the youngest of ten, and after his mother died from tuberculosis when he was 12, he and his father worked as sharecroppers in Oklahoma. According to my father, they did not get along, and when he turned 15, his father told him he was on his own, his old man was going to California. My father reluctantly went along. It is there that his stories about the trip west stop. My Aunt Johnnie said that when my father arrived in California, he was a stick figure, and I can only imagine what he must have had to go through. He went on to join the Civilian Conservation Corps and then the Army and kept up with some of his family relationships, but not with his father, it seems. It was said by my mother, that when my father presented her to my grandfather, Grandpa said, "Welp, I see you've gone and got yourself a squaw." Maybe leaving your home on a long dusty trail to you-don't-know-where does that to a person. My father was affected by leaving Oklahoma; he was affected by World War II. I have been greatly affected by John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
In another matter, I hope it wasn't my fault that the very day after I posted my last blog, one of the pigs was butchered next door. I think this may be the beginning of a trend where these pigs are concerned. If it is my fault, I hereby humbly apologize to my porcine neighbors and wish you the best in whatever afterlife is reserved for pigs. Don't you just love bacon?