Saturday, September 09, 2006

Grapes of Wrath

When I was going to Peru one of the things I didn't mention in my previous post is the security agent saw 'Grapes of Wrath' in my bag and smiled and said 'I read that when I was 17, it had a profound effect on me - it changed my life.' I wondering about this because at that point I was struggling with it.

I finished Steinbeck's classic 'Grapes of Wrath' in Peru and I haven't written anything about it so far but it was a wonderful book and I didn't really want to write more about Steinbeck but it all came back to me last night. You can tell a good book when suddenly a month after you finish you start to think about the characters and what they would have done.

'Grapes of Wrath' is described by some as a horrifying, cold, cruel read. I must admit it did shock me and it took me a while to really get used to the style of writing but this achieved the idea of grabbing me and taking me back. I couldn't read this book like an ordinary book, I had to read it at night, in silence. The story is about a family in the Depression in the Mid-west who are forced out of their home and they travel to California. One of the most profound aspects of the book is that every character was equal in importance, everyone was different but you don't find yourself drawn to one particular person and even when bad things are done, you find it hard to be prejudiced. I was privileged to be reading 'Log from the Sea of Cortez' at the same time and this gave me an insight into the philosophy of Steinbeck and I think a better understanding of what he was trying to say.

Steinbeck was fascinated by his friend Ed Ricketts and his idea of non-teleological thinking. This is quite complex but to express it quickly, an illustration is to say that the Depression era was caused by factors beyond our understanding. It is not a matter of simply saying, 'anyone who is unemployed get a pickaxe and work', for one thing as described in 'Grapes of Wrath' there was only enough money for about 70% of the workforce to work. If anyone else wanted to work the money had to be shared among them and when the wages are reduced for more people to work it defies the purpose of work because a family can't live on a dollar or less a day. It is not a matter of finding a quick solution, it is a matter of gaining a deep understanding of what something is before you try to look for solutions and causes.

Last night I was helping my Mum and Dad to install a new dishwasher and fridgefreezer. We had a number of problems but we all worked together and I started to think about Ma and Da and Rosasharn, and that time when Ma exploded and threatened them all with an iron bar and how noble an environment it really was, how they tried and worked their hardest but even though things didn't really work out they kept going. This is a little like Steinbecks idea of consciousness as a 'tragic accident', that we just have to keep going and try to be good, even though the characteristics we hate of aggression, and selfishness, are the ways of succeeding in business and goodness and honesty will more than often fail you in business. His approach to consciousness is almost opposite to that of Teilhard but I am not sure if he would have entirely disagreed with him. I intend to study this relationship further in the future. Steinbeck was a mystic too but just what type is something I am not entirely sure about.

The characters are still quite close to me and I still feel affectionate for them. The true sign of a good book, perhaps it will change my life.

No comments: