Novels that changed the world: The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

Many successful American authors started out as regular people who got their hands dirty and really dug into life. Sam Clemens worked on a riverboat. Louis L’Amour hitched rides on box cars to get from job to job. Steven King was a low paid teacher.

John Steinbeck was a get-his-hands-dirty kind of guy. As a teenager he worked as a ranch-hand and in the fields alongside migrant farmers. He saw life from the bottom up and developed an appreciation for the work regular people did. As a young man he worked as the sole caretaker for a Lake Tahoe Resort that got snowed in every winter. On many lonely nights his only companion was a book.

The Grapes of Wrath is a tribute to those people who worked so desperately to survive for themselves and their families. In the Great Depression, stories of a land of milk and honey with plenty of work for the able lured many out to California from the impoverished east. The travelers arrived to find crowded work camps, rationed food, and conditions not fit for dogs let alone human beings.

Yes, The Grapes of Wrath is long and ultimately depressing. But it has a message that resonates: Somebody cares, somebody sees you, even if it’s only an itinerate laborer who turned into one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

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