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The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
The original, squashed down to read in about 15 minutes


'The Grapes of Wrath' developed from 'The Harvest Gypsies', a series of seven articles in the San Francisco News in 1936, recording the lives of migrant workers. Steinbeck's novel was critically lauded, and continues to be one of the most studied of all American stories. But it angered many with its open admission that the Great USA could fail, to the point where copies were publicly burned.

(Unlike other Squashed Editions this is a paraphrase, not a true abridgement, just a short summary for private study and research. Copyright may exist on the original work.)

The Grapes of Wrath

To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. In the water-cut gullies the earth dusted down in dry little streams. And as the sharp sun struck day after day, the leaves of the young corn became less stiff and erect; they bent in a curve at first, and then, as the central ribs of strength grew weak, each leaf tilted downward. Then it was June, and the sun shone more fiercely. The air was thin and the sky more pale; and every day the earth paled.

The Joads among the thousands of Oklahoma sharecroppers, or "Okies," who were forced to pull up stakes during the depression of the 1930's and seek a living elsewhere. The wind and rain had taken the top soil from their farm land, and had left it a part of the desolate, arid dust bowl region of the Middle West.

When Tom Joad returned home after serving four years of a seven-year sentence for manslaughter, he found the family shack deserted and the family gathered at Uncle John's, preparing to depart for California, where, "you can pick your food right offa the trees, by God."

Tom's younger brother, Al, who was a natural mechanic, had picked up an old Dodge sedan which they had converted into a truck of sufficient capacity for themselves and their meager belongings. When Tom walked into the yard, the truck was loaded and the departure imminent. It was delayed only long enough for a casual but sincere welcome home, and some even more casual questions as to whether he had "busted out or been let out."

Young Al, in particular, was a little disappointed to learn that Tom had been let out on probation, instead of escaping. But Tom didn't consider himself a hero. He had killed a man with a shovel as a simple act of self-defense. "A man gits a knife into you, you jus' gonna do somethin' an' I done it with a shovel," he said. "An' I would do it again; but I ain't proud of it neither. Now let's git goin'."

In the truck, when it started for California, were ten Joads and two non-Joads. The Joads were: Granma and Grampa, Ma and Pa, Ruthie and Winfield, Tom, Rosasharn, Al, and Uncle John. The non-Joads were Rosasharn's young husband, Connie Rivers, and Casy, a used-to-be-preacher who had given up preaching because the things he liked to do and couldn't feel ashamed of doing, a preacher shouldn't do. So he gave up the preaching.

The Joads' truck was only one of many then making the long trek across desert and mountain. This migration by motor from east to west in search of the better life was not unlike its earlier counterpart by prairie schooner, because many failed along the way for each one who completed the journey. In that they reached their goal, the Joads were more fortunate than many, though even they did not come through unscathed.

Broken by the heart-break of leaving home, and lacking the will to suffer longer, Grampa and Granma died along the route-they were not there to see the land of milk and honey when the little truck topped the last mountain and dipped down into the lush green and golden valley.

But the Joads were not long in learning that their portion in this rich land was to be its dregs. When they inquired for work, they were directed to the "Hooverville" on the outskirts of town, down by the river. When they got there they found a rag town, close to the water; the houses were tents, weed-thatched enclosures, paper houses, a great junk pile composed of cartons and corrugated paper.

It was here that the Joads learned how California felt about her job-seeking visitors. A well-dressed man, escorted by an officer of the law, drove into camp looking for fruit pickers. But he was vague about the wages he intended to pay. When one of the "Okies" accused him of trying to round up more men than there were jobs, in order to work the wage down, the deputy threatened to burn the camp and tried to arrest the overbold "Okie" on a trumped-up charge.

The "Okie" broke loose and ran, and Tom tripped the deputy, who, firing blindly, raked off the knuckles of a woman standing by. The Reverend Casy then stepped forward and kicked the deputy into unconsciousness.

When reinforcements arrived for the law, the Reverend Casy, who was not good enough to be a preacher, took all the blame upon himself and submitted to arrest. All this was a little too much for Rosasharn's husband. Deciding that the times were not propitious for parenthood, he betook himself to parts unknown, leaving the pregnant Rosasharn to the Joads.

The Joads moved on and for a while found comparative comfort in a government camp which the local cops were not allowed to enter. Everything was clean here, and the work and responsibility of the camp were shared on a democratic basis. But even here, food, at least, cost money, and they were eventually forced to leave in search of some kind, any kind, of wage-paying work.

The spring is beautiful in California. Valleys in which the fruit blossoms are fragrant pink and white waters in a shallow sea. Then the first tendrils of the grapes swelling from the old gnarled vines, cascade down to cover the trunks. The full green hills are round and soft as breasts. And on the level vegetable lands are the mile-long rows of pale green lettuce and the spindly little cauliflowers, the gray-green unearthly artichoke plants.

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success, for in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

Arriving at a place where they had heard there was work picking peaches, they found the road blocked with cars far ahead, and a line of white motorcycles drawn up along the roadside. A state policeman came up and leaned on the side of the car.

"Where you goin'?" Al said, "Fella said they was work pickin' peaches up this way." "Want to work, do you?" "Damn right," said Tom. "OK. Wait here a minute."

Presently, the Joads' car and five others were escorted at high speed past the waiting cars and a line of angry, shouting men and women, through a high wire gate and into a strongly guarded peach camp. Here they were offered wages which made it barely possible to buy food each day at the company store, but even this was better than nothing. They were shortly to learn that they were actually being, used as strike-breakers. The men and women outside the gate were pickers who had struck when the wage had been cut from five cents a box, which the Joads were now getting, to two-and-a-half cents, which would not even afford food for a family of pickers.

Tom tried to take a walk after dark, but was stopped by an armed guard. "Ya better go back, mister, for your own good," the guard said. "Them crazy pickets might get you." "What pickets?" "Them goddam reds. Now you better git along back."

But Tom didn't go back. He circled around through the dark, slid under the fence, and joined the men along the road. The first person he found out here was Casy, the used-to-be-preacher. Casy told Tom that he had served his term in jail for his part in the "Hooverville" fiasco and had then cast in his lot with the hunger-ridden and underprivileged migratory workers. As they stood talking, they were surrounded by troopers, who blinded them with the beams from their flashlights. A short, heavy man stepped up and crashed a pick handle into the side of Casy's head.

There was a dull crunch of bone. Tom leaped at the man, wrenched the club free, and struck him down. Someone struck him a glancing blow on the head, and then he was stooping and running through the dark. Although he escaped that night, he could no longer remain in the camp because his bruises would be sure to give him away. So the next morning he hid under a mattress in the back of the truck while Al talked their way past the guards, using the pretext of a job up the road a ways.

Swiftly now, the family broke up. Since Tom was a marked man, it seemed best that he should be free to move unencumbered by the family. Al announced one night that he was going to marry Aggie Wainwright and "git a job in a garage," which had always been his idea of the way to make a living. At this time the Joads were living, together with the Wainwrights, in a boxcar on the edge of a cotton field where they had found brief work.

Here the deserted Rosasharn gave sad and painful birth to a dead baby. And here the early rains came and the flood found them. Defeated, Pa was no longer capable of making decisions, and Ma was running things. Al and the Wainwrights figured that by building a platform in the top of the boxcar they could outlast the flood, but Ma told Pa that the rest of the Joads were getting out while they could.

So he took Rosasharn on his back, Uncle John took Ruthie and Winfield, and they waded through the hip-deep water to the road. In the driving rain they found a barn standing in a field.

Panting in, they discovered a man lying on his back in the gloom and a boy sitting beside him.

"What's the matter'th that fella?" Ma asked. The boy answered in a croaking monotone. "He's starvin'. Last night I busted a winda and stole some bread an' made him chew her down but he throwed it up. Got to have soup or milk." Ma looked at Rosasharn huddled in the corner. Her eyes passed Rosasharn's eyes and then came back. And the two women looked deep into each other. The girl's breath came short and gasping. "Yes," she said.

She moved across to the wasted figure and lay beside it, baring a breast and pulling his head close. He shook his head. "You got to," she said, squirming closer. "There," she said. "There." And as she looked up and across the barn, her fingers moved gently in his hair.

The real 'Hooverville'

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