The Critical Response to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

By Barbara A. Heavilin | Go to book overview

The Enduring Values of John Steinbeck's Fiction: The University Student and The Grapes of Wrath

Kenneth Swan

The world has changed dramatically since Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath in the thirties. Our age is an age of affluence contrasted to a time in the novel of poverty and hostile environment. Ours is an age of internationalization contrasted to the local, the regional, and the provincial. Ours is an urban age contrasted to the rural and the agrarian; an age of education contrasted to the age of the unlearned and the uneducated; an age of technology and the computer contrasted to the backwoods and the unsophisticated, an age of science fiction contrasted to the realism of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. So why do the students of the nineties still read the fiction of John Steinbeck? Certainly, there is always the intriguing appeal of the long ago and far away, but The Grapes of Wrath does not fit well in the genre of the literature of nostalgia. Its realism is too brutal for that, and its naturalistic detail too discomforting in its vivid portrayal of the dehumanization of character and the destruction of the Joad family despite their heroism. So why are university students still intrigued with John Steinbeck? I asked that question of several of my students, and I discovered that there was a consensus in their responses and that they find enduring values that have broad appeal to today's university students.

Accustomed to an organizational structure involving plot development or character delineation, students are initially troubled with the organization

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