This is one of the most moving novels I have ever read, and if you have not read it yet, put it on your list.
Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family, tenant farmers driven off their land by drought and economic hardship. First we meet Tom Joad, just coming out of prison for manslaughter. He catches the family just before they leave to California, a kind of mythical promised land where there is apparently work for all. Although it is clear to Tom and the reader that the dream of the little white house in California between the orange trees may well be unattainable, he continues on with the family.
What follows is tragedy compounded by tragedy. The older members of the family pass away, unable to leave the land that was their entire life, or to lead the life of hardship on the road. Along the way they meet so many other families with stories like their own, many initially in worse circumstances than them. As they progress, they too fall into even harder times. The veil of dreams is removed from their eyes and it becomes clear that the plentiful work they expected is just a lure to capture so many workers that the landowners can pick and choose and lower the rates of payment. Many can barely feed their families on the pittance they are given for a whole day of manual labour.
But many other dreams are shattered along the away as well, most notably for Tom’s sister Rose of Sharon. A newlywed and pregnant, Rose of Sharon (pronounced Rosasharn by her family) dreams of a little home for herself, the baby and her husband Connie. But Connie proves too weak, and the young, naive Rose of Sharon must grow up quickly. Her role in the final scene is a powerful transcendence of her circumstances.
What stood out for me most was the simple kindness of all the folks – none ever had so little that they could not share it with others. Even in such desperate times, the common man would look after each other. Just beautiful.