Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Grapes of Wrath, Part 2: "'It don't take no nerve to do somepin when there ain't nothin' else you can do.'"

Before I even say one single thing about this part (GRANMA, OMG!) can I just applaud myself a little on breaking it down pretty well so far? It's like Part 1: Saying goodbye, Part 2: The journey... I'm pretty pleased. The fact that Steinbeck clearly broke down his book pretty rigidly in these ways (at least in the first two quarters) is neither here nor there really.

I mean, I can't even... The inner strength! The commitment to the family! I had remembered that Granma died but not the circumstances until just before they drove off into the desert, and I was just like 'oh NO, I can't read this again. NO!' But of course I did, and there were tears. Mainly at this:
"The family looked at Ma with a little terror at her strength."
Everyone realises how amazing Ma is to have done that, and respects her so much for it. And also for that time when she threatened to beat everyone up with a bit of metal, which was pretty badass.

*Tries to get a handle on all the rest of the journey* Shall we make a little note of who we've gained and lost? So Granma and Grampa are both dead, which I think is a huge loss because how funny were they?! But it's ok, because "'They was too old... They wouldn't have saw nothin' that's here.'" But I'm still sad.
And the freaking DOG got run over, which personally I didn't need, that poor little jackrabbit got squished (technically not part of their party, but still) and Noah decided to stay by the river because he's an odd one. And maybe because Steinbeck decided he had too many characters? (I'm hoping there was a better motivation behind this. And maybe there was!) And then the Wilsons joined them and swiftly left them, and Mrs Wilson is clearly not long for this world: "'I'm jus' pain covered with skin.'" UGH.

Anyway. Getting away from the sads, may I give you some anger instead? As I am whenever I read this book, I'm FURIOUS at the way some people can treat other people. It's not just that the rich just keep all their wealth to themselves and couldn't care less about anyone else (capitalism, I'm looking at you) but that the system is such that, if people (and that's 'the majority of' people) tried to change the system and make it better for the majority, they're going to get slapped down by the government, or, you know, the rich. This is something that comes up more and more as the book progresses, but I think it's worth noting now that Steinbeck seems to be fairly hopeful that things could change, which is why he has Casy around, but as we all know, from, you know, the fifties, the people with all the everything (money, power) would do anything to make sure it all stays the same.

And it's still happening today, and that's why this book is still relevant, and why I'm STILL angry.

So there's that, and there's also this attitude about money that's kind of interesting, in that, the Joads have literally none, and they want to make more, but what little they have, they will share with other people (like the Wilsons) because they know that it's people that matter, and not money. This is true of all the people who are travelling to California, and differs only amongst the poor people coming back from California, who also think that people are more important, BUT know that you can't live without money. And then you've got the people with jobs and homes, who aren't rich but don't know what it's like to be that poor, and because they don't want to find out, they develop a hatred and a lack of understanding for those people who have nothing:
"Them goddamn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain't human. A human being wouldn't live like they do. A human being couldn't stand it to be so dirty and miserable. They ain't a hell of a lot better than gorillas... They're so goddamn dumb they don't know it's dangerous. And, Christ Almighty, they don't know any better than what they got.'"
Seriously. And then, there're the rich people who don't even think about the poor people, other than about how much they can exploit them to get the most profits, but Casy reckons that they're pretty deeply unhappy guys (and, come on, they're clearly guys):
"'Fella havin' fun, he don't give a damn [about dying]; but a fella mean an' lonely an' old an' disappointed- he's scared of dyin... If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it 'cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, there ain't no million acres gonna make him feel rich, an' maybe he's disappointed that nothin' he can do'll make him feel rich.'" 
Which is all very well and good, but there are people dying, and he doesn't give a crap, so I'm not exactly going to feel sorry for his inner poverty. But anyway, this reminds me of two things:

1) This conversation I had with my friend Frances where we both said that, if we were rich, we wouldn't just want to keep all the money we had because it would kind of make us feel like crap and so we'd, you know, redistribute the wealth, and also if I had a company, I'd redistribute the profits around more evenly, improving the workers lives, because, you know, people are more important than profits.

There's probably a reason we're both poor, but anyway, I think this is kind of what Steinbeck's driving at here.

2) There's this bit in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this reminds me of, where the incredibly rich Big Daddy essentially admits that wealth is useless because everyone's got to die and there's kind of nothing you can do about it. I don't really know why this is relevant, except that it's nice having a rich person in literature admitting that money is kind of useless, apart from the things you can do with it. Which can make it the most useful thing (and give you inner wealth. You know.)

I'm going to have to stop before I try and get us to form a gang and start a revolution, but first, a couple of Joad handy household hints:

1) Submitted by Tom: If your hand starts bleeding, you can't go wrong with rubbing a little bit of wee and mud on it. Works a treat!
2) Submitted by Ma: "'Take your breath in when you need it, an' let it go when you need to.'"


  1. Socialism's one of those things I think is AWESOME in theory, but have as of yet to see a country implement it successfully. But yeah, do we have a social/godly/moral/what-have-you responsibility to look after everyone? Yes. And we've gotten a lot better about it than in the '30s. I mean, we had no safety net at all for poor people. Now (thanks a lot to FDR) we've got a whole lot of stuff people can turn to. Yayy.

    But yeah, obviously as people we should just help each other. But our stuffffffff. *hugs stuff* It's so shiny. Nah, this all basically comes down to Jesus's greatest commandment, which is love your neighbor as yourself. Capitalism doesn't quite fit into that.

    In conclusion, I am sad the dog and bunny died. But was expecting the grandparents.

    1. I mean... Yeah, no one's really done Socialism properly, but that doesn't meant that you can't get all idealistic about it, and go 'god DAMN, that would be wonderful!' As I do. Daily. Also, did you know that FDR totally wanted like a NHS for the USA, but died before he could get it done? That... Would have been really awesome for you guys. Seriously.

      YOU ARE BRINGING JESUS INTO THIS OMG. But no, seriously, most Christian beliefs=basically my favourite things. Like no killing? Not killing is my favourite! It's weird that America is SUCH a Christian country, and that the Republicans are like the Christian party, and yet... So little of what they do would be approved of by Jesus, I reckon. Stupid rich people worshipping their money... *mutters*

      I was really sad about the bunny! That was just unnecessary. And I KNEW for a fact that the grandparents were going to die, but I STILL cried at the whole Granma situation. POOR MA!

    2. *brings Jesus to the party*

      *everyone feels awkward*

      *Jesus starts turning water into wine, everyone's cool*

      The way I think about it is the Republicans in control worship money, and they exploit the majority of the Republican base, which is legit Christian.

      Damnit, FDR, why'd you have to die?

      In conclusion, this section was super-cool.

    3. :( FDR was the greatest. He could have been President FOREVER.

      This section WAS super cool. THEY ALL ARE.

  2. I love Ma. And yay for everyone in the story realizing the awesomeness of Ma. Because it shows that the men might be the ones on the surface leading things and making the rules but they are not really the ones with the power and with the strength.

    The not-rich-but-have-jobs people are assholes BUT you sorta understand why they suck so much. Cos they're afraid. See if the Okies are awful, stupid, bad people, then they deserve to be poor and have shitty lives. If they're good, smart, decent people that totally don't deserve everything getting heaped on them, then these not-rich-but-have-jobs people could totally end up like them.

    Those people get some of my sympathy. The rich people who think the same way are probably also doing it cos they're scared but given they're rich, they can shut the hell up. Apparently my sympathy in this book is based on income level.

    1. MA IS THE SUPREME BEING! I think that Steinbeck REALLY loved his mum. Just sayin.

      Ok, I am SO down with your thing re: the not so rich people, who feel that, if they DON'T believe that the Okies are just terrible then one day they could easily be in their position. It's how the middle classes have worked for ages, but it's still horrible, and it's where ignorance comes from! And the flip side to it is that the middle classes feel that the working classes (this is sort of a non-perfect analogy, but let's just go with it) could rise up at any time and displace them from their positions, and so they do all they can to keep them down.

      This all happens, and is encouraged by the rich, who let the paupers have their infighting while they get richer and richer. Which would be why you hate the really really rich people!

      So basically, I'm down for feeling for the middle-y people to a certain extent, but thinking the way that they do just feeds the evil capitalist overlords, and please just stop me if I sound like Marx, ok?!

  3. Sooo... I do kinda feel angry towards the rich people, and I totally feel angry towards banks for treating people like crap. Buuutt... I don't know. Maybe I'm not feeling it so strongly now because I went through all that anger in my teen years. Now, I've basically accepted that this is how the world works, because on a general scale, people suck. Not even people suck... but people have flaws. Like greed, and wanting ALL the nice things, and preferring to have an easier life, etc. That means that socialism/communism is never going to work on a large scale, even if it is a nice idea. No one should put their weight behind what sounds like a utopian ideal, because somewhere there's someone running the show to their own benefit. I guess I'm just jaded now.

    ALSO, even though capitalism isn't great - it's kind of worked out so far for us industrial countries. The US is still a pretty sweet place to live - whenever they talk about the unemployment rate and bad economy and stuff on the news, it's not anywhere near as bad as it used to be - even people without jobs now are getting assistance to eat and pay their bills and stuff. The people below poverty level still have cell phones. People are still going out to eat all the time, shopping all the time, etc.

    So yeah. I guess I do feel for the poor people in the book, but at the same time I'm like "But that's how the world works now..."

    1. Dude, you are SO jaded. I'm kind of... I sort of hope that I never get jaded because, even if socialismness never happens (which, you know, it probably won't) then at least I can still think it's possible and like that everything could be better if everyone just thought like me, you know? Frankly, I'm all for Philosopher Kings, but, you know, that's never going to happen. Probably.

      And OK, capitalism is good for developed countries, but what about the rest of the world? I mean... I don't know massively all the history of everything (obviously, cause I'm not, I don't know, someone really smart) but a lot of what we have is at the detriment of other countries and other people- like, you know, the US is a country built on slavery. And we had this whole Empire thing where we took and took and gave NOTHING back, because we're assholes, and now we're rich and Africa and like India and stuff are not. Which REALLY sucks. And the poverty level thing, like I said in my comment on your blog, is kind of down to the tiny socialist things that have made their way into existence, rather than capitalism. Like, if it was all down to capitalism, it'd just be like the rich sending their kids to school and buying medicine and healthcare and having golden carriages, and basically everyone else would be DEAD.

      Anyway... We were talking about The Grapes of Wrath? Yeah, so yeah, you say 'that's how the world works now' and Steinbeck says to you (I assume) 'but it SHOULDN'T, and that's why I'm writing this.' Or that's what I say. Whatevs!

    2. I am a jaded... and I'm more of the "stuff probably won't change, and if it does probably not in my lifetime, so... whatevs" school of thought. At least on a lot of stuff. In politics, I usually side with the poorer people (so screw Republicans), but I also know that voting is really as involved as I'm going to get in anything.

      As for the developed countries screwing over the now super-poor countries, that's totally true. White/European rich men messed up the world completely throughout history. But I do think that someday, those other nations will work themselves out and eventually start to do good for themselves - but I also believe that that's something we cannot help with now. I think that giving SO much charity to poorer countries is a bad thing - it's like the U.S. HELPING those countries stay dependent on us, and therefore never rising to their own greatness. (Or, for a cruder analogy, the U.S. is a pimp trying to keep it's women addicted to drugs and therefore complacent.) Whether those poor countries eventually turn to democracy/capitalism/socialism/etc to do so remains to be seen, of course.

      Also, a lot of the issues in this book came about because of the major changes in industry at that time - factories, electronics, etc were becoming more important than small farming families, and that's why we have all the cool technological stuff we do now. So while it's cool that Steinbeck is pissed at the rich folk (who, in general, suck), he should be more mad at machines & technology causing the times to change, therefore making the farm people... unnecessary.

      And Ik we're on like completely different waves of thought here (my jadedness/indifference vs. your sunny idealism, which I love), but YAY for debates and stuff like this. For real, it's taboo to talk about stuff like this out there in the real world, with anyone other than close friends or family.

    3. And OMG that was the longest comment ever! Sorry :-/ LOL maybe I should have just switched to email.

    4. Ok, am I going to reply to all these things? ...No. But they are all things!

      Here's the one thing I want to say- I know that economically it's really not great to give charity money to these countries (I'm not going to say A LOT cause it's not, really, it's like... something really tiny like 0.0something% of GNPs or something) because they need to stand on their own two feet etc, BUT I think that giving that money so that maybe less kids die? Is kind of more important. AND I kind of think that rich countries SHOULD help out poor countries and, you know, spread the world's wealth around, aka socialism for everyone!

      Cause, you know, making countries get loans to pay for stuff they don't need and then making them pay it back WITH INTEREST? Kind of the worst thing capitalism has done. Ever.

    5. I totally get wanting to help out those countries so that kids aren't suffering - and I am 100% for individuals sponsering kids in those countries personally - sending money for them to go to school, writing to them, etc.

      But I think that the small amount of money that we DO send to poorer countries as charity ends up getting misused - the medicines get stolen, funds get squandered by corrupt officials, etc. Not all of it is getting to the people who need it. And yeah, the bit I said about people having to help themselves. Used to drive me INSANE when people justified the Iraq War by saying that we were bringing them freedom and democracy. You can't GIVE people things like that, they have to go and get it for themselves, they have to find a way to revolt. You can't become independent while someone else is fighting your fight.

      Oh also, I don't like that we can attach stipulations to the money we donate... in the Bush years, he did something where we would only send assitance to countries if they talked about abstinence-only sex ed, and that sucks. Any mention of condoms, and they risked losing their funding.

      Ugh, politics. But yeah. So yay for being charitable, but I think that nations are bad at it and it causes more problems. Individuals being charitable is much better.

  4. Holy BALLS. Gramma dies?!? I was debating whether I should read the other readalong posts before I finished the section. I think the proverbial cat is out of the bag of death, though. If you will. Man, Steinbeck! So sad all over the place!

    Clearly neither Communism nor Capitalism is really a perfect system. It seems like, as with everything, you need a little bit of all the stuff. Elements of each, kind of thing. Which I think Canada tries to do, though it's obviously not a perfect system (the city I live in is mild, weather-wise, and also stupidly expensive to live in. So there are many, many homeless people here). I don't know, you guys. Basically everything sucks. That's all.

    1. Aw, noooo! She does though. It's AWFUL. Although if the rest of the book is nice, it could be like the old are gone and the young start a new wondrous life... But I doubt it.

      Everything DOES suck. I don't know if there IS a perfect system, but I think that capitalism is the very very very worst. Like the worst of the worst. I think of Canada as being like the UK in the socialised medicine and more governmental control over various things and stuff, which I think is a kind of good compromise. We used to be way more socilalism-y but then Thatcher fucking ruined everything. Fucking Thatcher.

  5. Dude, this section kind of got me down. But Ma did make me really happy in these chapters. And I didn't even mention it in my post! Blech, I am getting too bogged down in the sad stuff to see the good parts.

    Also, I totally made this face D: when Tom slapped the pee-mud on his hand.

    1. It did NOT get you down, did it?! I didn't pick that up from your post AT ALL. Ahem. But I mean, its fair enough getting bogged down in the sad stuff, because there is a WHOLE LOT of it, but... Look for the lighttttt! (Not in, like, a death way. You know.)

      I was kind of horrified by the pee mud, I have to say! I'd much rather have looked for some spider web!

  6. Haha, your thoughts are brilliant!

    Ugh, so much death! Please tell me it stops! No wait, don't, I don't want any spoilers. Steinbeck, make it stop!

    'There ain't no spider web, an' you can always get piss." Fact. So many great lines, I mean household tips.

    I'm too tired to talk about the politics...

    1. I... Yeah, I don't want to tell you. But... It doesn't stop. ALSO but, I don't think there are any other sections where there is as much death as this one? But don't hold me to it!

      Yeah, politics are tiiiiiring. Like, it was tiring even having an anti-capitalist rant in the post. I feel like next week I might just go 'THIS IS SO SAD THE END' and that can be my whole post haha!

    2. Is it wrong that I just don't want anymore animals to die?


    But only sorta. Laura, for being to negligent about your read-a-long, I owe you a box of whatever American candy/treat you like best when I come to visit you in Merry Old. Maybe I'll bring it from Cannery Row! <3

  8. Hey, I enjoyed your post! And I appreciate the effort of you doing one at all (even one, ahem, not at all about the book. Ahem)

    But you can totally bring me American sweets! I'm partial to twizzlers and also mint m&ms. ;) COME TO ENGLAND NOWWWWWWW!