The Grapes of Wrath 75th Anniversary Edition

Overview

April 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the first Viking hardcover publication of Steinbeck’s crowning literary achievement

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize–winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard ...

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Overview

April 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the first Viking hardcover publication of Steinbeck’s crowning literary achievement

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize–winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.

A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes the very nature of equality and justice in America. As Don DeLillo has claimed, Steinbeck “shaped a geography of conscience” with this novel where “there is something at stake in every sentence.” Beyond that—for emotional urgency, evocative power, sustained impact, prophetic reach, and continued controversy—The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most American of American classics.

To commemorate the book's 75th anniversary, this volume is modeled on the first edition, featuring the original cover illustration by Elmer Hader and specially designed endpapers by Michael Schwab.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
11/15/2013
First published in 1939, Steinbeck's influential The Grapes of Wrath is getting a gorgeous 75th-anniversary edition with a reproduction of the original Viking first edition cover illustration by Elmer Hader and more.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Freedom in America has always been entwined with freedom of movement. The freedom to immigrate, the freedom to relocate from one state to the next, the freedom to wander without being hassled. That's one of the reasons John Steinbeck's coruscating epic of exodus, The Grapes of Wrath, hit bestseller lists like a bomb when it was published in 1939. It wasn't a novel about people taking wing and transforming themselves in new settings. Steinbeck showed Americans heading west to better themselves like waves of people before them, only to be blocked, harried, fenced in, run off, denied.

Seventy-five years later, the novel still speaks to us for this same reason. For decades we have been told the world is growing ever more free and open. At the same time, the news is filled with stories of families, whole peoples, pushed out of one place and made unwelcome in many others. Steinbeck's Joads, a family of Oklahoma farmers, head to California after the Dust Bowl kills their farm and the bank takes it. They're a large brood, rendered brightly and compassionately by a reportorial novelist who believed he had found the true, beating heart of America.

Steinbeck's hero of sorts is the oldest son, Tom, paroled from prison after serving four years for murdering a man in self-defense. Steinbeck folds in several other memorable characters, from indomitable Ma, "the citadel of the family," to the ex-preacher Casey, who functions as something of a chorus. (On a more practical level, he gives Tom somebody to talk to; the prodigal Joad isn't even reunited with his family until the book is over seventy pages in.)

The novel unfolds in long, lyrical sections that combine lilting rhapsodies to the landscape and people living in it with a sinewy and journalistic focus on the catastrophe overwhelming both. Writing with rhythms that draw equally on biblical intonations and the majesty of a ruined nature, Steinbeck opens up the dry, blasted wasteland of Oklahoma, where the lives of generations of farming families has literally blown away in the apocalyptic dust storms. Like so many refugees before and since, they're distrusted and scorned by those whose land they must cross or settle on. They have been transformed from individuals into faceless "Okies." Their poverty, the very thing forcing them to cross hundreds of miles in search of the farm work promised in the handbills littered around the Midwest, is seen as a badge of shame and a reason to despise them. The Joads just want to work.

"They hoped to find a home," Steinbeck writes, "and they found only hatred." Foreigners in their own country, the Joads learn that the legal fact of citizenship doesn't always equate to the reality. The tragic distance between these two states fuels the fury that's shot through The Grapes of Wrath like barbed wire. "Who can we shoot?" asks one of Steinbeck's farmers to the tractor driver who's about to destroy his farmhouse. "I don't aim to starve to death before I kill the man that's starving me." "Maybe there's nobody to shoot," is the laconic response.

As Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw writes in her excellent short study, On Reading "The Grapes of Wrath," Steinbeck had reason to be angry. Raised in the farming town of Salinas in California's Central Valley, he knew exactly how migrant workers were exploited in a borderline feudal system that shares uncomfortable similarities with that of today. Steinbeck took it all in — the ruthless tactics of agents provocateurs, the deceptive practices of farmers who promised a good wage and payed a miserable one, and the squads of porcine tin-star deputies who ran workers out of town the second the harvest was done and smeared as "red" anybody who spoke out of turn. This isn't just a great American novel, it's a great revolutionary novel.

Although angry and stiffened with fatalism, The Grapes of Wrath never gives in to despair or cynicism. There is less of the hammy rhetoric spliced into John Ford's grandiloquent and otherwise generally faithful film adaptation. But Steinbeck's pure, unadulterated love for his Okies reverberates on each cleanly chiseled page. At makeshift campsites, they come together in small, fluid communities characterized by a deep generosity of spirit: "twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all." But strong though they might be, the odds are stacked against them, and when they are forced to move on, "the cars of the migrant people crawled out like bugs." Movement might be an American dream, but for the Okies it is the enemy, Ma enjoining Tom to help her keep the family together even as desertion and death claims one Joad after another.

The novel's ambitious scope and resolute sense of history-in-the-making ensures that Steinbeck's greatest achievement retains its gripping force today. Steinbeck took hold of a singularly disastrous moment in the nation's history and parsed it with an elegantly enraged precision whose humanistic fury still generates heat — and light.

Chris Barsanti is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. He is the author of Filmology: A Movie-a-Day Guide to the Movies You Need to Know. His writing has appeared in Publishers Weekly, The Virginia Quarterly Review, PopMatters, In These Times, and The Chicago Tribune.

Reviewer: Chris Barsanti

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670016907
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 4/10/2014
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 47,928
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

John Steinbeck (1902–1968) was born in Salinas, California, and died in New York City. He remains one of the most prolific and influential authors of his generation and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

Biography

John Ernst Steinbeck, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, was born in Salinas, California February 27, 1902. His father, John Steinbeck, served as Monterey County Treasurer for many years. His mother, Olive Hamilton, was a former schoolteacher who developed in him a love of literature. Young Steinbeck came to know the Salinas Valley well, working as a hired hand on nearby ranches in Monterey County. In 1919, he graduated from Salinas High School as president of his class and entered Stanford University majoring in English. Stanford did not claim his undivided attention. During this time he attended only sporadically while working at a variety jobs including on with the Big Sur highway project, and one at Spreckels Sugar Company near Salinas.

Steinbeck left Stanford permanently in 1925 to pursue a career in writing in New York City. He was unsuccessful and returned, disappointed, to California the following year. Though his first novel, Cup of Gold, was published in 1929, it attracted little literary attention. Two subsequent novels, The Pastures of Heaven and To A God Unknown, met the same fate.

After moving to the Monterey Peninsula in 1930, Steinbeck and his new wife, Carol Henning, made their home in Pacific Grove. Here, not far from famed Cannery Row, heart of the California sardine industry, Steinbeck found material he would later use for two more works, Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row.

With Tortilla Flat (1935), Steinbeck's career took a decidedly positive turn, receiving the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal. He felt encouraged to continue writing, relying on extensive research and personal observation of the human drama for his stories. In 1937, Of Mice and Men was published. Two years later, the novel was produced on Broadway and made into a movie. In 1940, Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Grapes of Wrath, bringing to public attention the plight of dispossessed farmers.

After Steinbeck and Henning divorced in 1942, he married Gwyndolyn Conger. The couple moved to New York City and had two sons, Thomas and two years later, John. During the war years, Steinbeck served as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Some of his dispatches reappeared in Once There Was A War. In 1945, Steinbeck published Cannery Row and continued to write prolifically, producing plays, short stories and film scripts. In 1950, he married Elaine Anderson Scott and they remained together until his death.

Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 "...for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and keen social perception.." In his acceptance speech, Steinbeck summarized what he sought to achieve through his works:

"...Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed. The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species...Further more, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity of greatness of heart and spirit—gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and emulation. I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature..."

Steinbeck remained a private person, shunning publicity and moving frequently in his search for privacy. He died on December 20, 1968 in New York City, where he and his family made a home. But his final resting place was the valley he had written about with such passion. At his request, his ashes were interred in the Garden of Memories cemetery in Salinas. He is survived by his son, Thomas.

Author biography courtesy of the National Steinbeck Center.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Amnesia Glasscock
      John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (full name); Amnesia Glasscock
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 27, 1902
    2. Place of Birth:
      Salinas, California
    1. Date of Death:
      December 20, 1968
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

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