I first (was supposed) to read The Grapes of Wrath in high school. I muddled my way through the first part of the book, through most of the Joads’ car trek, but probably used cliff notes to get me the California (so to speak). Maybe it’s because this time I listened to the audiobook version or because I am a more mature person and reader, but I found the story to be much more interesting than I remember. I think it could be that I grew tired of the chapters interspersed that mythologize the plight of the migrants and zoom out from the troubles of the Joad family to the troubles of all those escaping the great dust bowl. In the beginning of the book, I didn’t like these chapters, but I grew to really enjoy them as windows into a greater world. The scenarios that they talk about, from the problems placing the blame of what happened, to the failure of business to maintain to the social good, to the way some stood on the necks of the migrants all the while calling them “reds” seem to be timeless. This seems especially true given the most recent economic collapse.
My favorite part was the short stint when the Joads join up with the Wilsons. The way they come together as a single family is heartwarming and proves a later sentiment that the poor are the only ones that take care of each other. I also loved the treatment of the loss of members of their party as they continue west. Despite the sadness of losing someone, Ma Joad’s drive to continue and see her family survive is both tragic and inspiring at the same time.