The Grapes of Wrath

Winner of the National Book Award and 1940 Pulitzer Prize for fiction

Few novels stand alongside The Grapes of Wrath on the same levels of social consciousness and tangible impact. Jay Parini, writer and Steinbeck biographer, calls it “the finest example in American literature where a writer made a genuine work of art from a particular social crisis.” For those looking to understand what life for a Depression-era migrant worker was like, it’s time to put down the history textbooks. In The Grapes of Wrath, you can live it. You can feel the sun beating on your brow and the dust settling in your lungs.

The Grapes of Wrath follows the fictional Joad family’s painstaking trek to California and struggle to land on their feet once their vision of a bountiful promised land is replaced by a disappointing reality. It is a portrait of resilience and hope that awoke 1930’s America to the social crisis at hand. This awakening was undoubtedly violent; Steinbeck was called a communist and a liar for bringing into the spotlight a group of people that personified the shame of America. Yet the story that he told was painfully necessary. It set in motion the slow-grinding gears of social change and incited important conversations throughout the nation.

In an interview that now plays in the Grapes of Wrath exhibit here at the National Steinbeck Center, Elaine Steinbeck recalls a comment made by Eleanor Roosevelt, a good friend of hers. Roosevelt had been recalling the multitude of questions she received from people in Russia regarding the plight of American agricultural workers. Her response? An assurance that conditions had vastly improved – Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Steinbeck “took care of that.”