The Grapes of Wrath – still scarily modern

I recently finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, a book I know will be with me in some way forever.

It’s definitely one of those books – one of the ones you know you are supposed to read, which for some reason makes the prospect of reading it ever so slightly dull.

If this is something you are currently feeling about John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, don’t. Banish such fears immediately, find yourself a copy of this book tomorrow and read it.

Instead of doing a traditional review of this book here though, of which there are already plenty, I wanted to reflect on something that really struck me as I read it.

No one can be sure how Steinbeck imagined the world would be when people read this book more than 70 years after it was first published in 1939. A lot has changed in that time. But one thing that hasn’t is human nature and the human spirit.

It is particularly poignant to read The Grapes of Wrath, which is set in the Great Depression, now, in this current time of great economic uncertainty. For many of the world’s poorest, conditions are just as bad now as they were for the heroic Joad family in the book – something which would surely be to Steinbeck’s absolute horror.

In fact a recent BBC documentary found very similar conditions in California today as those described in the book. And for all the wealth that has been created in our society over the many decades now separating us from the Great Depression, it is still enjoyed by the few, with the many remaining in a constant cycle of struggle.

And, what do you know, here we are again, enjoying another recession. Clearly the system is broken, and needs urgent and permanent fixing.

I hope over the next century we can do a lot better as a human race at rectifying this. Because, frankly, the idea that in seventy years there will still be vast swathes of people without even the very basics like medicines, food, water and a home to call their own, really is terrifying.

If I could give one piece of advice to David Cameron before he continues with any more of his austerity plan, it would be to read, or maybe reread, The Grapes of Wrath very soon.

By Sophie Hudson


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