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It’s “Grapes of Wrath” month–time for double helpings of Steinbeck’s corn-pone Marxism

April 29, 2014

My latest blog post for the Los Angeles Times:

John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel about migrant Central Valley fruit pickers, peopled with robustly two-dimensional characters and dripping like an okra pod with hokey dialog, shameless sentimentality and corn-pone Marxism, is already inflicted by teachers on high school students all over California and elsewhere, along with those two other monuments of preachy mediocre fiction, “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The main reason people think that “The Grapes of Wrath” is a good novel is that in 1940, director John Ford managed to turn it into a first-rate movie, with the help of stellar acting (Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, Steinbeck’s jailbird hero-on-the-lam), haunting chiaroscuro cinematography and the ditching of the novel’s bizarre ending, which features “Rosasharn” breastfeeding a starving man in the spirit of proletarian solidarity. Even in the movie, though, when Tom gives his famous “I’ll be ever’where” speech, I always want to call his parole officer.
Posted by Charlotte Allen

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  1. The part of the movie that alienated me, is where the Joads enter some kind of a government campground, and they all marvel about the facilities and the plumbing and all the mod-cons. And they say things like, “The government is giving us all this?” And they say it in such a wondering, worshipful tone, as if they’re entranced by all the wonderful things government provides them. It’s sickening.

    And all the other things the author mentions — the hokey dialog, the comic-book heroes and villains. It’s really a cheesy book/movie. It even turned me against Henry Fonda.

  2. Quent permalink

    This is an excellent essay. I do have a comment regarding Steinbeck’s use of “Ma Joad.” I didn’t learn until I was in High School that my grandparents had actual names other than ‘Mom and Pop.’ Everybody called them that, including my mother. They even referred to themselves that way. That kind of usage was probably pretty common among poor rural Midwestern and Southern people in the Depression era.

    Your main point, however, is correct. The Left has been working on The Narrative for decades. My favorite example of it is Cary Grant jumping up and down in a woman’s housedress, yelling, “Because I’ve gone Gay.” (Bringing Up Baby, 1938) Presumably the 1938 audience was supposed to understand the ‘gay’ reference. The fashionable Left was social-engineering the language even then. Of course, we all know now, as a matter of common knowledge, that ‘gays’ are cute, funny and zany, just like Cary Grant.

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