The Grapes of Wrath Readalong: Part I

I apologize in advance for this post, because I have just taken NyQuil and am writing with only one eye open and one functioning nostril. TMI?

My first pass at the first section of The Grapes of Wrath and all its grapey wrathful dustiness was the perfect reminder of why I really do love Steinbeck, leaving me with tons of underlines and a bagillion dogeared pages and a few pages with dogears on the top and bottom. That good. (For directions on how to dog ear a page, click here. PS -- I have no idea why that article needs to exist. Dogearing pages is not freaking complicated, even if it is a polarizing topic.)

I did not read the introduction, despite being tempted to do so in order to put this oh-so-important title into its proper context. I read the introduction to Anna Karenina and it GAVE AWAY THE ENDING so never again, I tell you, never again.

So I started with Chapter 1, and was blown away (pun!) by all the dust. Dust everywhere, coating everything, lots of crop failures, dust, dust, dust.

And then we meet the truck driver and the hitchhiker and are left to wonder for a bit which of them is the important one, or if they both are, until the hitchhiker is dropped off and meets the preacher (ex-preacher, I suppose), and suddenly people have names and the truck driver is gone. But not before we meet the turtle.


The first part of this book is not depressing, except for the bits that are (the slimey car dealer and the ongoing churnings of the man, and the forced departure from the land they've lived in all the while), but I can tell that Steinbeck is about to take us on a crazy up-down ride of emotions, no? These poor people, the Joads and their neighbors and even Muley, are so damn hopeful and adamant in their decisions, so dependent on things turning out ok in the end, that it is like Steinbeck has hung a sign on the first page that says: Caution. Sad ending ahead.

Part of me knows this gif doesn't belong here,
but a larger part of me thinks it is too fun not to include.
There's also the incredibly heartbreaking scene(s?) where the Joads pack up their things, and all of the bits that make up a life--and makes you think about all of the STUFF you know you own, and what you'd take with you vs. what you'd burn (because obviously burning things is the most practical solution here)--and all of memories that are inherently tied to a place, to an object, to a thing:
"There's a premium goes with this pile of junk and the bay horses-so beautiful-a packet of bitterness to grow in your house and flower, some day." 
"How can we live without our past lives? How will we know it's us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it."
There's a lot more here, but NyQuil is making me stop now. I promise I'll be better next week. For now, though, I can just say I really like this book. So far. And I haven't cried. Yet.


16 comments

  1. The most important thing I learned from my undergraduate English lit degree was NEVER to read the introduction until you have finished the book. The academics who write those things have no conscience about spoilers!
    I'm not sure I agree with you that the beginning isn't sad though -- besides the neon "Bad stuff coming!" the whole falling apart of their way of life and leaving the land they were born on, and their daddies were born on, was heartbreaking.

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    1. Mary, I learned that lesson too late in life, but NEVER AGAIN will I let the introduction ruin a perfectly good story for me THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

      Maybe "isn't sad" wasn't the right turn of phrase, because you're absolutely right that the first part is sad. But there's also a tinge of hope that overlies all of their actions--even if leaving is difficult and hard and unfair and quite depressing, they are still holding out that things will be better where they are going. I just feel like if (when?) those hopes are crushed, the sadness will reach new proportions of epicness.

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  2. I ALSO wrote my post while under the influence of various cold medicines. I think it can only help with this type of readalong.

    I keep wanting to yell at the Joad family "Please stop getting your hopes so high. You're going to crush me when the inevitable sadness hits". California, please live up to everything these people need you to be.

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    1. Cold medicines FTW! And yes, I feel exactly the same way. Like their leaving is sad but also hopeful, and California better step up or else. I'm afraid of the "or else" bit...

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  3. GAH, I hate when Introductions give away the endings! JUST PUT THEM AT THE BACK OF THE BOOKS, DAMMIT!

    Having said that, I discovered as I read Anna Karenina that I already knew the ending anyway, but I DON'T KNOW HOW! Must be one of those cultural touchpoint thingys.

    ANYWAY- Heartbreaking kind of describes most of this whole section for me, so, you know, weeeeep! (but not actually. Yet.)

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    1. I KNOW, THANK YOU! It's not an introduction if it assumes you've already read the book. Then it's an appendix. Or an epilogue. Or a scholarly essay to be read upon completion. WHATEVER YOU CALL IT, it ain't an introduction. Liars.

      I'm scared of the weeping to come.

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  4. "because obviously burning things is the most practical solution here"

    Right?? I thought you only did that if the Yankees were coming. Maybe they don't want the owners of the land to get their ceramic dog or whatever?

    I'M GOING TO BE TALKING ABOUT THE TITLE NEXT WEEK. Because I have Ideas. Maybe outlandish ideas, but ideas nonetheless.

    We do not question which gifs people use. We're just happy they're there.

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    1. Glad I'm not the only one who questioned the burning. I mean... why burn the things? Couldn't Muley at least have used some of them in his escapades? Are we afraid of leaving goods behind for the tractor man?

      Can't wait to hear your ideas about the title, because I am currently at a loss (except for the grapes in California that Grampa is going to slather all over his face, as he keeps claiming).

      Also, thank you for not questioning my use of gifs. DAME MAGGY SMITH! HOW COULD I NOT!?

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  5. Yes! A sign has been hung. I feel like it should say "proceed with caution". The packed up and fit in WAY too many people and things much to easily into the truck. Disaster can't be far ahead. And hello? Breaking parole? That's gotta come back and bite Tom in the ass.

    It's just so much more dramatic to burn things, yes?

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    1. If I'm ever writing a book and I need drama, I'll set something on fire. "SO DRAMATIC."

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    2. I've never burnt anything in my life but they do it all the time on TV/movies and in books! It's like the ultimate "fuck you memories, picture, book. I don't need you so I'm going to BURN you!"

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  6. It was SO sad to see the family picking and choosing what they could take with them, and what to burn. I can't even begin to comprehend trying to do that - we have SO MUCH STUFF these days.

    But yay for Steinbeck and his great writing and I'm enjoying it so far :)

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    1. I know, the idea of packing everything I know PLUS TWELVE OTHER PEOPLE into ONE HOMEMADE TRUCK seems impossible. Actually, it doesn't just seem impossible, I'm sure it IS impossible. I'd have to burn A LOT of things.

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  7. I'm DELIGHTED by the sheer number of turtle GIFs this week's reading has inspired. MOAR TURTLE GIFS.

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  8. I hate introductions that do that! It's ridiculous! And it happened to me with Jane Eyre! What are those writers and publishers thinking to publish those spoilers?

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