"Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath"

The Grapes of Wrath book cover

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

What a novel that rings home with relevance in today's America! Written in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of an Oklahoma family who is suddenly uprooted from their home and, unable to find work, moves to California where landowners promise work and prosperity. To their dismay, they are met with animosity and meanness.

I think The Grapes of Wrath sets the tone for any immigration scenario where on one hand you have a people who have inherited riches that were fought for and won, an on the other you have people who are not so lucky seeking a means for survival.

And while the Californians wanted many things, accumulation, social success, amusement, luxury, and a curious banking security, the new barbarians wanted only two things--land and food.

Speaking on how California was taken from Mexico by early Americans, The Grapes of Wrath describes how the rich take advantage of immigrants:

They imported slaves, although they did not call them slaves: Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Filipinos. They live on rice and beans, the business men said. They don't need much. They wouldn't know what to do with good wages. Why, look how they live. Why, look what they eat. And if they get funny--deport them.

And the book makes clear the inclination of society to ignore this unfair process not due to evil intent, but due to ignorance, fear and apathy.

Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights. They said, These goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They're degenerate, sexual maniacs. These goddamned Okies are thieves. They'll steal anything. They've got no sense of property rights.

And the latter was true, for how can a man without property know the ache of ownership?

I believe there are serious lessons to be learned regarding immigration, and before someone takes a serious stance on issues that affect the lives of millions of immigrants, he should read The Grapes of Wrath.

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