(SPOILER ALERT!! If you plan on reading The Grapes of Wrath some time in the near future. Do not read this post.)
According to dictionary(dot)com, the word "struggle" is defined as such:
To contend with an adversary or foe.
To be coping with inability to perform well or win
To contend with difficulty
The word "struggle" was all I could think of after reading John Steinbeck's Nobel and Pulitzer-prize winning book The Grapes of Wrath. Outside of this, it was so overwhelming that I was at a loss for what to really think about it.
It's story, about the Joad family's desperate migration westward during the Great Depression era of America, has a deep richness to it. It is so rich that you can mine through it's pages and easily interpret layers upon layers of meaning and symbolism. I have read a couple of Steinbeck's other books, and true to form, The Grapes of Wrath displays his masterful ability to make grand, sweeping statements about all kinds of things in the simplest, most unassuming ways. I drew several insights out of this book.
In one sense, Grapes offers a bitterly hard lesson in economics. When there is a huge supply of people willing to work for any amount of money, no matter how little, coupled with a conversely small amount of people able to pay for such labor, what you have is a terrible situation where the destitute and poor subsist on chump change. The wealthy employers increase their profit margins by paying laborers next to nothing (and get away with it) while everyone else languishes in starvation and poverty. Capitalism, as it sows its seeds of greed, can be cruel and heartbreaking.
In another sense, this book is draped with multiple layers of biblical references, the most obvious to me being the mass migration of a people to a Promised Land, aka California. This story is largely allegorical in its tone and doesn't pretend to be subtle about it.
I also found the close-knit bonds within the Joad family to be particularly poignant. There are several instances in this story that display what it means to protect and stand by the people you love. Seeing how they sustained each other in the face of such terrible misfortune was my favorite part of this book.
Ultimately, however, the most compelling part of this story to me was its struggle. It is the deep undercurrent in a wide, seething, swirling ocean--tugging and pushing against every smaller current above it.
The struggle of a family to travel 2000 miles through the midwest, mountains, and deserts.
The struggle of twelve people crammed into a make-shift, almost broken-down pick-up truck to leave all that they knew behind for something better.
The struggle when discovering that hardships are no different even in places where the grass is greener.
The struggle to question and fight authority.
The struggle against starvation.
The struggle against the grief of losing someone you love.
The struggle to survive when all you have is nothing.
To me, the story of The Grapes of Wrath is less about presenting a moral or lesson, but more about conveying a sense of what it means to struggle against hopelessness, to grapple with something so insurmountable that it hurts.. It paints a vivid picture of what this looks like. Where a thin film of dust settles itself everywhere, like soil filling a grave. Where the heat is intoxicating and inescapable. Where one's hunger is endless. Where the tears will fall where they will, impervious to every herculean effort to hold them back.
As difficult as it was to read this book, I understood the importance of what it had to say. I know now why this book has been studied and praised all the world over. It's beauty does not exist in some high and lofty place. Oh no. It's beauty lives in something raw, vital, and painfully human-- in the struggle deep inside its bones to hold on to something tender, worthwhile, and real.
PS: Up next, I am currently reading Lev Grossman's fantastical novel The Magicians, and it is quite an engrossing ride. More on that in the next installment of Reading Will Save the World.
I've just added another page to this blog site. THE READING ROOM!!! Since 1991, I have kept a record of all the books I have read. I've decided to share this list with all the world. As time permits, I'll be adding more information to this page. I'll be listing the following tidbits: 1. Book Name 2. Author Name 3. Number of Pages 4. Thoughts/Reviews There will also be a rating system by way of "G's".GGGGG: OutstandingGGGG: GoodGGG: FairGG: PoorG: Don’t Bother To see this new page, just click HERE. (It is a work in progress.) Reading is the most empowering practice I have ever taken on. In high school, it is the very thing that constantly nourished my spirit. I was a bit of a loner in school and lived on a small island in the middle of the South Pacific ocean. Reading books informed me and gave me a much larger perspective of the world beyond my little island paradise and limited human interaction. To this day, I champion all of the benefits that come with reading books and encourage any and all of my friends to read!! Here are five of my all-time favorite books. In my life, these books changed me in some vital and powerful way. I am who I am now due to the grace and beauty found in the pages of these books: [caption id="attachment_872" align="aligncenter" width="290" caption="The Pearl by John Steinbeck"][/caption] This book was actually a reading assignment for my English class. Being that I lived on an island with a strong native culture, I related to this book's story immediately. Reading this book was one of the first times I can remember a book making me feel so impossibly sad and heartbroken. It tells a simple fable of a man and a family who find and own a pearl. It is a colossal tale in the most understated and delicate of ways. This book is a masterpiece. [caption id="attachment_874" align="aligncenter" width="235" caption="Les Miserable by Victor Hugo"][/caption] Much has been said about this story both in its written and musical/stage form. There is a reason that numerous film versions of it have been made. It is a compelling narrative of the human struggle. At times gut-wrenching, poignant, and all too tender, Jean's unbreakable connection to Cossette in this story is a thing of beauty. I love this book. [caption id="attachment_875" align="aligncenter" width="140" caption="The God In Flight by Laura Argiri"][/caption] This is probably the most obscure of my all-time favorite books, but it is no less amazing. As a debut novel, it is a formidable force of literature. Set in the 1800's at Yale University, it tells the story of two unlikely lovers--a brilliant young student and his volatile male Greek art professor. Yes, that's right. This is a story about two men who fall in love and the tide of struggles that befall them. While this premise might be enough to turn off most readers, I have to say that in addition to being such a unique period piece of a story, it is remarkably well written. I don't think I'd be out of line if I said that, in the greatest likelihood, even the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen herself would praise this book. It took Argiri 20 years to write this book and is a testament to her skill and power as a writer. [caption id="attachment_876" align="aligncenter" width="182" caption="Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte"][/caption] Speaking of the Bronte sisters, I have a soft spot in my heart for Charlotte Bronte simply because of her timeless classic "Jane Eyre". This is essentially the story of an orphan who finds her own way through a difficult set of circumstances. She becomes self-empowered, and she finds love in a man who is truly worthy of her. Some people have Superman, while others have Frodo, or heck, even Buffy, for that matter. As a teenager, I had Jane Eyre. She was as good of a hero for me as any. It was my Junior year of high school. My pre-calculus teacher was sitting next to me at our basketball court. Maybe he could tell that I was pretending to be interested in the game that was going on because he asked me if I have ever read this book. He said that he thought I would really appreciate it. We only ever talked about math, and I thought it was strange that he would mention this book to me. A couple of weeks later, I managed to find a copy of it, and I read it. It was unlike any book I had ever read before. Certainly not terribly formal but actually quite intimate in its own way. I liked it and found myself thinking about it often. It somehow put to words the sense of listlessness and confinement that I felt back in those days. I didn't have my own words for how I was feeling at the time, but this book was eloquent enough. In its few pages, it speaks volumes of truth. Feel free to visit my new Reading Room any time. First off, I have the arduous task of updating it all the way through to this year, and then, I will keep adding to the list as I read more books. Please leave a comment on the Reading Room page if you can and share your thoughts. I welcome them all. More to come. By all means, read something. You might discover something you never thought you would. -g
When people talk about contradictions in the bible, they usually fall into one of two camps:
I'm starting a third camp for people who know there are contradictions in the bible and think they are good to have.
For those of you who don't know about said contradictions, here are a couple examples.