Saturday, March 20, 2010


John Steinbeck
Published 1939

Back sometime ago I proposed the question, “What is the worst book you’ve ever read?” on my book blog site.  Since that time, the list   has developed a life of its own where I periodically check in on it every few weeks.  Surprisingly, some readers reported John Steinbeck novels as an experience they had to suffer through.  I wondered if it was because they had experienced his books when they were younger (that happened to me with “Catcher In The Rye”) and  didn’t have the life experience to appreciate Steinbeck.  But, I know there is also a possibility that some readers just don’t care for Steinbeck’s style or the subject matter of his books (I.e. I’m not a big Forster fan). 
Anyhow…… I love Steinbeck, especially “The Grapes of Wrath”.  This is the third time I’ve read the book and I’ve seen the movie, starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, at least three or four times. The Grapes of Wrath is exceptional in its humanity, humor and history. If you haven’t picked up Steinbeck before read the following excerpt.  It encompasses Steinbeck’s talent for brilliant dialogue. Even if you have read other works by Steinbeck, check out The Grapes of Wrath; you won't regret it. Every time I pick up this book it inspires me to laugh, cry and  to appreciate my life and opportunities.

The Great Depression, a family struggles to leave dust bowl ridden Oklahoma behind and find new opportunities as migrant workers in California. Tom Joad and his ex-preacher friend Casey have to find a new part for their truck which has broken down on the side of a Texan highway en route to California. They have limited supplies, food and money. Finding the part and getting back before dark is going to be a miracle.  They come across a junk yard and encounter a one eyed, self-loathing simpleton who hides and slaves for an abusive opportunist.

A specter of a man came through the dark shed.  Thin, dirty, oily skin tight against stringy muscles.  One eye was gone, and the raw uncovered socket squirmed with eye muscles when his good eye moved. …. The man blew his nose into the palm of his hand and wiped his hand on his trousers. ‘You from hereabouts?’
‘Come from east -goin west.’ replies Tom
‘Look around’ then. Burn the goddamn place down, for all I care.’
‘Looks like you don’t love your boss none.’
The man shambled close, his one eye flaring. ‘I hate im (his boss),” he said softly. ‘I hate the son-of-a-bitch. Got a girl nineteen, purty. Says to me, “How’d ya like ta marry her?” Says that right to me. An’ tonight-says, “They’s  a dance; how’d ya like to go?” Me, he says it to me!’ Tears formed in his eyes and tears dripped from the corner of the red eye socket. ‘Some day, by God-some day I’m gonna have a pipe wrench in my pocket. When he says them things he looks at my eye.  An’ I’m gonna, I’m gonna jus’ take his head right down off his neck with that wrench, little piece at a time.’ He panted with his fury. “Little piece at a time, right down off’n his neck.’
‘Why don’t ya role? Got no guards to keep ya here.’
‘Yeah, that’s easy to say. Ain’t so easy to get a job not for a one-eye’ man.’
Tom turned on him. ‘Now look-a-here, fella. You got that eye wide open. An’ ya dirty, ya stink. Ya jus’ askin’ for it. Ya like it. Lets ya feel sorry for yaself. Course ya can’t get no woman with that empty eye flappin around. Put somepin over it an wash ya face. You ain’t hittin nobody with no pipe wrench.’
‘I tell ya, a one-eye fella got a hard row’ the man said. ‘Can’t see stuff the way other fellas can. Can’t tell how far off a thing is. Ever’things jus flat.’
Tom said, ‘Ya full a crap. Why, I knowed a one-legged whore one time.  Think she was takin’ two bits in a alley? No, by God! She’s getting’ half a dollar extra.  She says, “How many one-legged women you slep with?  None!” she says. “O.K.,” she says. “you got somepin pretty special here, an’ it’s gonna cos’ ya half a buck extry.” An’ by God, she was getting’ em, too, an’ the fellas comin’ out thinkin’ they’re pretty lucky. She says she’s good luck. An’ I knowed a hump-back in a place I was. Make his whole livin’ letting’ folks rub his hump for luck. Jesus Christ, an all you got is one eye gone.’…..
‘Cover it up then, goddamn it. Ya stickin’ out like a cow’s ass. Ya like to feel sorry for yaself. The ain’t nothin’ the matter with you……’
‘Well, ya think a fella like me could get work? Black patch on my eye?’
‘Why not? You ain’t no cripple.’
‘Well could I catch a ride with you fellas?’
‘Christ, no. We’re so goddamn full now we can’t move. You get out some other way. Fix up one a these here wrecks an’ go out by yaself.’
‘Maybe I will, by God,’ said the one-eyed man.’

This is John Steinbeck……..


Sophie said...

In enjoyed the book a lot and read other Steinbeck books after it.

fredamans said...

If someone is disliking John Steinbeck, it MUST be because it was forced reading at school. If they had read any of his books alone, they would love them all.

I suggest reading East of Eden. I am one of his biggest fans, and this is my favorite book.

Grapes of Wrath falls around 3 or 4 for me.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I was one of those who was forced to read Steinbeck at school - practically every single one of his books from The Pearl to Grapes of Wrath. I think it must be because I grew up in California. He and Hemingway have similar lean, "muscular" styles of writing that did not engage me. I confess though, I haven't read Steinbeck since high school - perhaps I'd be more appreciative now.
But I wouldn't say, though, that I hated any of his books.

SocrMom78 said...

I must say I am looking fwd to re-reading Steinbeck as a grown-up. Was not a fan after "Of Mice and Men" but hopefully the others will be better!!!

Medical Librarian said...

Not a Steinbeck fan. I tried re-reading East of Eden recently, and I can't believe a book with that kind of beginning would even get published now.

On the other hand, I'm a huge James Dean fan and love the movie version. Go figure.

Joseph said...

Grapes of Wrath was required reading in H.S. but I was one of the few that liked it. I recently re-read it, and enjoyed it even more. I'd forgotten the poignant ending. I think Steinbeck is a master and this is a is Of Mice and Men (don't ask me to pick which is better).