October 30, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath The End: "And gradually the greatest terror of all came along."

It's been a month since we started The Grapes of Wrath readalong and sadly, today, it comes to an end. I'm not so much sad that the book is over, I'm really more sad that the readalong is over. And I'm really glad that I read this book with an awesome group of people, because it allows you to talk about all the WTF moments and depressing moments and the feeling sad moments. Really, if you haven't done a readalong before you, you really should.  Oh ya, and spoilers ahead. Obviously, because it's the end of the book! And WE MUST talk about the end of the book.

ANYWAY. The Grapes of Wrath has now been read in its entirety. And let me just get it out there - I DID NOT see that ending coming. But first, let's talk about the last 1/4 of the book!


When we last left off, the Joad's were still living in the government camp, enjoying the flushing toilets, hot water and daily baths. Well, they lived in said camp for about a month at which point there was no longer work for the men and food was pretty much scarce. Ma decides it's time to pack 'er up and hit the road to look for work:
Ma plunged the dish into the bucket. "We'll go in the mornin'," she said.

Pa sniffled. "Seems like times is changed," he said sarcastically. "Time was when a man said what we'd do. Seems like women is tellin' now. Seems like it's purty near time to get out a stick."
Silly Pa. We all know Ma is the boss. 

Rosasharn still hasn't given birth to her baby and she's craving dirt (most likely iron deficiency) and getting all snooty because she hasn't had milk in a long time, even though she was told by the "nurses" in the camp she should. Then she tells Ma that if Connie hadn't taken off, she'd be living in a house with all the milk she needs! (Delusional.) So Ma decides Rosasharn should have her ears pierced before she gives birth. Because that makes sense. 

So once Rosasharn's ears are pierced, the Joad's pack up and find a peach farm that is hiring pickers. It takes the poor family a whole day of picking just to earn one dollar which buys them just enough food for supper. The living conditions here are poor and the whole operation is run with strict enforcement - almost like a prison.  It was hard not to have a lump in my throat while reading this section - I just kept waiting for the bomb to drop.  WHERE IS THE BOMB, STEINBECK?


But then Tom decides to sneak out of the camp to explore and he runs into Casy! Yay, Casy! Except Casy has joined the strikers and while he's convincing Tom to convince his family to stop working, he gets his head bashed in. And then Tom get hit in the face, but manages to pick up the club and hit a guy on the head with it, killing him. It was all very sudden and a bit gory. And poor Casy. But luckily Tom is able to sneak back into the camp where he has to tell his family the truth. Now that his face is bashed up, he has to lie low and can't help his family pick peaches. When the Joad's realize how much trouble Tom is in if he gets caught, they decide to pack up again and sneak Tom out of the camp. 

Next stop: Cotton picking!  At this point, Tom decides he needs to hide in the brush until his face heals. And the rest of the Joad's get to pick cotton by day and live in a boxcar by night. Am I the only one that thought boxcar meant a little wooden car, and was thinking how the hell do entire families sleep in a boxcar? Are you on drugs, Steinbeck? Ya, me neither.

Boxcar in Brie's head

Boxcar like the Joad's would have lived in.
But then silly Ruthie gets in a fist fight with some kids and like typical kids, they start threatening to get their older brother's to beat them up at which point Ruthie blabs about her having a brother who's killed two people. Ma knows Tom can't come back now, even once his face his healed, so she gives him some money and we never hear of him again.

And then the RAIN comes. But it doesn't just rain, it pours. Literally. It rains so much that fields are wiped out, families living arrangements are threatened by flooding, and everybody and everything is soaking wet. And this means there are no jobs and therefore no food. And really, is there even hope anymore at this point?


Of course, this is when Rosasharn goes into labour. And while the men are outside in the pouring rain, trying to build up a bank to prevent the streams from flooding their boxcars, Rosasharn gives birth to a stillborn. WHICH, I think is a good thing, because I'm pretty sure raising a baby at a young age, all on your own back in those days wasn't easy (or acceptable in most people's eyes). Unless your a widow. Then I think most folks just pity you.

At this point, we only have a few pages left. And I'm thinking, how can this all end in a few pages?! Is Steinbeck going to have everyone DROWN!?

Spoiler: No one drowns. But the water keeps coming and the boxcars are flooding, so the Joad's wade out to find dry ground. They come across a barn on the other side of the road, but they quickly realize they aren't alone in the barn. In the corner is a young boy with his starving, dying father. But no one has any food, let alone milk (milk seems to be the answer for sickly people in this book) and so Ma and Rosasharn share a knowing look and Ma ushers everyone out to the tool shed. AND THEN ROSASHARN BREASTFEEDS THE DYING MAN. And she strokes his hair, whispers "there, there", and smiles mysteriously. Mysteriously? Why mysteriously? THE END.

Ok, ok, I get there's some underlying symbolism here that I'm failing to grasp, like there's still hope even though life is shit, but COME ON. Well, Steinbeck, if you were going for shock factor, mission accomplished!


I'm not sure what I was expecting to happen (see first gif), but I was hoping for a little more closure at the end of the book - like some epilogue of the Joad's finding steady work, renting a small home, having enough food to eat, etc, etc. But I guess that would be too neat and tidy and hope is always the best ending, right? Well at least everyone's still alive (minus the people that previously died I mean). Although, if we're going to be all honest here, I am a little disappointed that Tom never got caught breaking his parole. I felt like there was so much foreshadowing for this, but I guess him having to leave his family and fend for himself at the end was punishment of itself.

In conclusion, I WILL MISS YOU READALONG peeps. Let's do this again real soon!

The women watched the men, watched to see whether the break had come at last. The women stood silently and watched. And where a number of men gathered together, the fear went from their faces, and anger took its place. And the women sighed with relief, for they knew it was all right-the break had come; and the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath. 

October 23, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath Part III: "Our people are good people; our people are kind people"

Well. It's Tuesday again. Which means we're 3/4 of the way through The Grapes of Wrath readalong! I'm sorry to those of you who haven't been able to follow along because of the spoilers and I swear I didn't plan on only posting about the wrathful grapes this month. Lucky for you, we only have one week left of these Steinbeckian shenanigans.

So last time we left off, poor Granma had died and The Joad's had just crossed over into California. Here's what's been going on since then:

First of all: NO HUMAN OR ANIMAL DIED OR WAS KILLED in this part!! High five, Steinbeck!


So, Steinbeck paints us a pretty bleak picture of California. One in which there are more people than jobs and more mouths to feed than there is food. The people out West are basically threatened by the folks from out East. The more hungry men looking for work, the less money said man is willing to work for. Which pretty much fucks everyone over because then no worker can bargain for more money once those standards have been lowered. The fruit trees bear more fruit than can be eaten before everything spoils. People are starving but charity is not an option. It's a freakin' losing battle.
"There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates-died of malnutrition-because the food must rot, must be forced to rot."

No one can eat this here food.

Then we have the LONGEST.CHAPTER.EVER: Chapter 20.  But lot's of things happen. The Joad's get their first real taste of Cali. They're starting to get it - that there aren't jobs-a-plenty afterall. Life in the camps is sketchy. No one has any food, everyone is starving and the police are scaring everyone. Then Steinbeck decides it's time to whittle down the character-load again.  So we see Connie wander off when he realizes he made a big mistake coming to California and just needs to "get on his feet", and leaves his pregnant girlfriend behind. No one goes after Connie. A scuffle breaks out in the camp, the police show up, and Tom forgets (FORGETS?!) that he's on parole so Casy takes the fall for him and gets hauled off to jail.

Connie gets the hell outta dodge.

The Joad's know they can't stay in their current camp and when they catch wind of a government camp they quickly head out. This camp is too good to be true, guys. It's clean and orderly. There's running water, flushing toilets, hot water, committee's, Saturday night dances. And as luck would have it, there was ONE available spot when the Joad's showed up. How's that for convenience?


There's only about a hundred pages left in the book...I'm nervous to see how Steinbeck is going to wrap things up. Everything seems to be going along ok right now. I mean, besides the lack of jobs. Who'll wander off next? Will we see Casy again? What about Alfred the turtle? Noah? Connie?

October 16, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath Part II: "That's 'cause you know better. They don't know any better."

Another week has flown by and we should all be half-way through The Grapes of Wrath now. Which means, since my last update, we've read chapters 11 through 18. This also means that spoilers are inevitable. And that my thoughts are all over the place. So proceed with caution.

I like to think of this part of the book as the "travelling caravan adventures", or "'em people's, they's a dyin'" chapters. Is this where Steinbeck starts picking people off? First, Granpa dies of a stroke. Then the dog dies a horrible death! Why, Steinbeck, WHY?


Then Noah goes all weird on us and decides to stay behind and live by the river. And Tom doesn't really try that hard to stop him.  Then Mr and Mrs Wilson stay behind when they reckon they can't continue on. And then, and THEN, Granma dies. Poor ol' Granpa and Granma. Never got to see what California had in store for them. But Tom reassures the family that "They was too old", and "They wouldn't of saw nothin' that's here."

But let's talk about Granma's death for a second. Granma dies sometime before the Joad's get to the Agricultural inspection which is shortly before they're at the California border. But Ma doesn't tell anyone that Granma is actually dead until after the Joad's get to California. Which means, she laid up on the mattress on top of the truck next to Granma's dead body for hours.

"The family looked at Ma with a little terror at her strength." 

Ma, she's a tough one all right - but we already knew that. Unfortunately, the nurse in me can't just read about something like this without thinking "but what about the mess and stench that would have been emitted from the last of the bodily fluids that would flush out of Granma's dead body?" And then I feel even worse for poor Ma.

And then we learn that Connie (I keep forgetting that Connie's a dude!) and Rose of Sharon "do it" in the back of the truck while poor Ma is laying up there with dead Granma. OH THE WRONGNESS. 


Ok, so this part of the book is full of death. The Joad's are down 3 people and a dog. And a rattlesnake was run over and I think a rabbit.

The in between chapters are growing on me. Dare I say I'm appreciating their existence? Even if I still have WTF moments while reading them. In the second paragraph of Chapter 15, there's a list of all the different signs hanging in the diner. The last one is IITYWYBAD. I think I stopped reading and spent like 20 minutes trying to come up with something that made sense: I intend to yell while you be all dining? If I take you way yonder, be a dear? I was too lazy to get out of bed to google it, but a quick google search now, informs me said acronym stands for 'If I tell you, will you buy another drink?'  Well, huh. Did anyone else know what this meant without googling it?

Moving on.

I feel like there's so much uncertainty and impending doom building up. The Joad's are naive and so hopeful that as soon as they get to California they will find jobs and have money all will be right. But there cannot be good things waiting for the Joad's in the second half of the book. The families they meet coming back from California already aren't a good sign. And the fact that thousands upon thousands of families are also hoping to fulfill their dreams in California can only mean that there will definitely not be plenty of jobs for everyone. But ignorance is bliss and maybe it's better that they just don't know any better.

"It don't take no nerve to do somepin when there ain't nothin' else you can do."

October 09, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath Part I: "Every moving thing lifts the dust into the air."

The Grapes of Wrath readalong has begun. Chapters 1 through 11 have been read. And my thoughts are all over the place. I don't think I'm feeling smart enough today ever to write eloquent paragraphs so I present to you my rambling thoughts and reactions thus far. Remember, I'm going into this blind so I have no idea where the story is going to go...

-Dust. So, so much dust. The first chapter set the stage so well for a land so dry and dusty. We take so much for granted nowadays. I couldn't imagine not having water - we use water for everything.

-Amidst the dust, we meet Tom Joad. Are we supposed to like this man named Joad? He seems weasel-like and come on, he committed homicide!  I don't like him.

-The turtle. I love you turtle. I'm not sure I get your symbolism, but I hope we see you again.

-Then we meet The Preacher. Except he's not really a "preacher" by trade anymore. Which in some ways makes him more insightful and less judgy now that he's sort of an atheist. And he seems trustworthy.

-When Joad is describing prison to The Preacher (Jim Casy), you realize nothing has changed in like 70 years! It's still a better place for most men who have been on the inside to be. Warm bed, 3 square meals a day, clean clothes and a shower. It's more than most families during this time had. 

-I'm confused: Tom got 7 years in prison for what was technically self-defense? Or is there more to this story then we will ever know....hmm.

-I love Steinbeck's language. The words he uses - they're just so great. "And the women went on with the work, but all the time they watched the men squatting in the dust - perplexed and figuring."  Perplexed and figuring. I love these words. 

-"How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it." Oh Steinbeck, you're so deep. 

-I don't like the rambling chapters - the one about the car salesmen most specially. All I wrote after that one: WTF.

-I don't know how I feel about Tom Joad yet, but I sure like his family once we meet them. But my heart feels tight for them - I know their life isn't going to be this easy. They aren't just gonna pack up their truck and make a life in California picking oranges. And what about Tom? Everyone looks up to him and I thought for sure he was going to break his ma's heart when he tells his family about his parole and what that means exactly (ie. you can't leave Tom!), but then he just goes?! And how the hell does that truck not bottom out once it's all packed up? Can't we just end the story here with the whole family driving off into the sunset and assume they made it to California and are now happily living in some orchard?

-Well at least there hasn't been any crying yet. Heavy hearts, yes. But no tears. Yet.


October 08, 2012

Farewell, Nova Scotia

So we've been back home for a little under a week now. Vacations always fly by way too fast, and I always find myself wishing we had "just one more day". I easily could spend a month at my in-laws place, except I'd probably gain 15 lbs from all the relaxing, book reading and eating that occurs. I know this is where I'm supposed to talk about books, but I thought I'd share how we spent the rest of our trip from where I left off. Really, I'm just stalling in writing about all the books I've read lately.

We spent another evening at Melmerby Beach. We literally had the beach all to ourselves and walked the entire length of it. It was peaceful, calm and like something out of a movie.

Jim's parents. How cute are they?

We ate some more seafood - my favorite: Mussels!

We spent a day and night in Halifax with Jim's folks. It was chilly but we walked along the harbour downtown.

Then we spent the night at Casino Nova Scotia! In honour of the 100th anniversary since the sinking of the Titanic, they had a replica of the Titanic Grand Staircase, which was obviously a photo opportunity just waiting to happen:

We went to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia for the re-launching of the Bluenose II. Unfortunately, it was a dreary, rainy day which really put a damper on the festivities that had been planned, but we dressed prepared and managed to enjoy the day. Lunenburg is full of history and charm and I'd love to spend a weekend there in one of it's many B&B's and pop into all the little shops.

We met up in Lunenburg with Jim's aunt and uncle, Ethel and Keith and explored the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic with them.

Keith and Ethel have a cottage in Greenfield, Nova Scotia, which is about a 45 minute drive from Lunenburg. They live in Nova Scotia during the summers and then Florida in the winters. These two know how to retire! We spent a night at their lovely cottage on the lake, but this is the only photo I took:

This was our view from the room Jim and I slept in. Doesn't get much better than that!

Many a round of Scat and Pass the Ace were played. Luckily for me, Jim's family loves card games as much as I do! As long as I can stay in the game past John, I'm happy. Jim's cousin Jennifer had a baby last year and we got to celebrate Wyatt's first birthday with him. Here's the whole family playing cards (after Wyatt went to bed of course):

Our last few days we made our rounds, saying hello and goodbye to family and friends and just enjoying being with Jim's parents. I feel truly blessed to have in-laws that I love spending time with.

As for the reading I accomplished while on vacation, I managed to read three out of the four books I brought with me. Summer Sisters took waaaaay longer to read than I had anticipated. I just didn't have that "must devour now" feeling with it as I did with On the Island and Love Anthony. Unfortunately, I didn't get to The Thorn Birds, and while it's on the back burner while I read The Grapes of Wrath, I still hope to get to it this fall.

And as hard as it is to say good-bye to Jim's parents, it's made a bit easier knowing you are coming home to this face:

October 02, 2012

Wrathful Grapes

Today* marks the official first day of The Grapes of Wrath readalong hosted by Laura over at Devouring Texts. For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea for me to join in all the shenanigans that I assume occur in readalongs, even though I have no previous knowledge or experience of reading Steinbeck (or previous experience in partaking in a readalong). Probably because I went to school in Canada, and we read things like The War and Lord of the Flies. I'm pretty sure I've gotten myself in way over my head, but if I can figure out how to find and use gifs, then I might be able to make it look like I know what I'm doing.

I have this unofficial and unrealistic goal of reading all the classics at some point in my life. I'm not sure why, as I've read so few and can't say I really enjoyed any of them...but I guess it's one of those "I feel like I'm missing out if I don't" things. One thing I do know is, reading books and being able to discuss them as you are reading said books, makes the whole experience so much better, even if you don't really enjoy the book.

Wrathful Grapes

So there. I'm going into this blind as can be! Which is good, because I have no expectations this way. Although I'm pretty sure there may be crying involved. Or at least gifs of people crying.

*I realize today is over for most people, but I'm on vacation and since I'm out on the East Coast, there's still 45 minutes left until tomorrow. **Edit: I hope my reading skills are better than my geography skills as I just realized that my day does *not* end before those people on the West coast. Oops.