Time to reread 'The Grapes of Wrath'

From the recent resurgence of John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath," it looks like people in a recession are happy to be entertained by a tale of the Great Depression.

The 1940 movie based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Steinbeck has gained such popularity recently that from September 2008 to October 2008, rentals of "The Grapes of Wrath" on Netflix rose 10%, according to the Nov. 17 issue of Business Week Magazine. A theatrical play based on the novel is also out.

If you haven't taken a look at the plot since it was assigned reading in high school, it's worth another look today. (although now you can just rent the movie.) The parallels to today are strong. People are losing their jobs, unable to pay the mortgage and forced to move elsewhere to find work.

It's the story of Tom Joad, played in the movie by Henry Fonda, leading his family out of Oklahoma to the promise of a better life in California. The family lost its land as result of the failure of the tenant system, combined with mechanized farming and severe weather, that caused landlords to notify homes of possession and force tenant farmer families off their lands.

The acting in the film is excellent and the book is a great read, especially for the writing and language. There are plenty of similarities between the Dust Bowl and today's recession. Take this line from Chapter 5: "The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it." In a time of bank bailouts, those words still have meaning today.

For a realistic depiction of the 1930s and the Depression, this is the movie to see.

Some of the movie's dialogue reads like it could come from a bank repossessing someone's home today. An agent for the Shawnee Land and Cattle Company tells a Joad neighbor, Muley Graves, that they're being evicted:

Muley's son (Hollis Jewell): Who's fault is it?

Agent: You know who owns the land. The Shawnee Land and Cattle Company.

Mulley: And who's the Shawnee Land and Cattle Company?

Agent: It ain't nobody. It's a company.

Mulley's son: They got a President, ain't they. They got somebody who knows what a shotgun's for, ain't they?

Agent: Oh son, it ain't his fault, because the bank tells him what to do.

Agent Tulsa: What's the use of pickin' on him? He ain't nothin/ but the manager. And he's half-crazy hisself tryin' to keep up with his orders from the East.

Muley: Then who do we shoot?

Agent: Brother, I don't know. If I did, I'd tell ya. I just don't know who's to blame.

Muley: I'm right here to tell you, mister, there ain't nobody gonna push me off my land! My grandpaw took up this land seventy years ago. My paw was born here. We was all born on it. An' some of us was killed on it. (Muley squats down and fingers the dust of the farm he has just lost.) An' some of us died on it. That's what makes it arn. Bein' born on it and workin' on it and dyin', dyin' on it. An' not no piece of paper with writin' on it.

The best line has to be, "Then who do we shoot?" Not that I recommend violence, but a lot of foreclosed homeowners are probably feeling that way in 2008, let alone in the 1930s.

Aaron Crowe is an uneployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com

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