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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 3, No. 4. 1940

The Grapes of Wrath

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The Grapes of Wrath

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of Wrath are stored;
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.
His truth is marching on."

It was these lines of the Battle Hymn of the Republic that gave John Steinbeck the inspiration for the title of his tremendous indictment of the present rotten economic system. The insignificance of human life where profits are concerned is brought out in all its starkness. People who dislike the message of the book may cavil at its obscenity, but few people could fail to be impressed by this passionate, white-hot indictment of the system which condemns millions to a life of poverty and squalor, which starves men, women and children with delightful impartiality, and which brands as "Reds", "foreign agitators", those who attempt to band themselves together to secure the bare minimum for a tolerable existence.

It tells the story of a Kansas dust-bowl family forced off their farm by big business, who are lured by inviting leaflets to trek to the "Sunshine state", California. These leaflets distributed by the thousand by big Californian farming interests, promise abundant and well-paid labour picking fruit in Californian orchards. In reply to a leaflet promising work for a few hundred people, thousands of refugees from the dust and drought stricken areas flock to California. When they try to get work they find that anyone who will not accept the employers' terms may starve, and watch his wife and family do the same.

The Joads, who set out with such high hopes, are terribly disillusioned. Casey, a former itinerant preacher who has accompanied them on their long trek, attempts to organizo a strike against a wage which, in the words of one of the characters, "you couldn't starve on"; has his skull smashed in by a pick- handle, wielded by a drunken deputy upholding the interests of law and order. Tom Joad does the samo by the deputy and becomes a hunted criminal.

Although this book does not and up on a very hopeful note the author has all through indicated that capitalism is digging its own grave. And perhaps the most significant passage in the book is that where he predicts that one day the workers will "stop praying"