What even is this novel?
I read this in high school and didn’t know what to do with it, and then in college I was too under the influence who did not think Steinbeck was a good writer. She was obviously wrong, or more so entitled to her opinion, but this novel is unbearingly sad and unbearingly good.
It’s not the most beautifully written novel, but it must be the most righteous one I’ve ever read.
First off, the structure of the novel goes back and forth between the events happening to our protagnists, the Joads, as they migrate from Oklahoma through Arizona into California in order to seek better fortune based on the word of handbills printed by the thousands to flood the market with cheap labor. Whether because I’ve read it before or seen the movie a few times or because I am older, but the dramatic irony of knowing how full of lies those bills are is drenching this early part of the novel. The earnestness with which the Joads believes and more so, needs to believe them is saddening. So they head West, now joined by their oldest son Tom, recently released from prison for killing someone who was in the process of killing him.
So the rest of the novel is peppered through with narrative based other types of stories and events that other people in their situation have faced. The movie folds these two narrative threads together so that all happen to and through the Joads. So this novel is already structured in a kind of world-building way.
As the novel goes on the Joads start to understand the depravity through which their fellow Americans are willing to drag them through for the sake of barely getting ahead themselves, how the State itself is deeply complicit in the oppressive tactics used to dehumanize the migrants, and how evil capitalism can be when it becomes an abject zero sum game.
The novel is essentially, in my estimation, a dystopian novel. The tenets of dystopianism are all there. And this is the kind of novel that a) reminds me to be careful of the future, but also b) mindful of the present. It also reminds me to hate all the fake dystopias that play at terror for profit.