Group feedback: The Grapes of Wrath

A report from one of our reading groups.

We had chosen 2 books to tide us over the long Christmas break. We discussed Grapes of Wrath first and it generated such a lively discussion that we ran out of time and had to have a much briefer discussion of Never Let Me Go.

The discussion got quite heated around the idea of utopia – was looking for a better life the same as looking for a utopia or was it just survival…?

Comments from the group:

  • As it went on I got into the story, and wanted to get through the descriptions to get to the story.
  • From a historical point of view, farming had changed a lot to become much larger scale. There were problems caused by over-farming. The lack of vegetation meant that there were no wind-breaks and created the ‘dust bowl’.
  • I think they were just trying to survive and not find a utopia.
  • Utopia is just a dream of something you want, an ideal.
  • Man is always dreaming of something better.
  • The farming world hasn’t learnt lessons from this. We still farm on a large scale and do not look after the landscape.
  • The book was an example of insularism in the United States.
  • Steinbeck was siding with the people – he didn’t approve of banks and commercialism. There was a strong theme of anti-authoritarianism.”

“I read this book as a teenager. Enjoyed the film but wouldn’t say this was a great book.”

“I got a mixed message about the family. The family are not portrayed as very bright – they believed the leaflets and didn’t seem to learn from their mistakes. People are still mislead by unrealistic dreams.”

“Steinbeck handled the dialects very well. Kept the flow going. But, it was socialist doctrine dressed-up as a novel.”

“Very good insights, and enjoyable read.”

“Interesting that Ma made all the important decisions.”

“Dog eat dog world. Settlers stole the land from Native Americans, then the bank stole the land off them. The cycle of life. They were indignant about what happened to them but couldn’t see the parallels with what their forebears had done to the Indians. Joad’s perspective was that they had been hard-done-by, but it wasn’t personal, it was just the wheel of life.”

Thank you very much to the group at HMP Standford Hill for this excellent report. And thanks to Penguin Random House for supplying these books.

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