I will now finally report on my 'tale of two novels'. It has been months now since I finished The Time Traveler's Wife and The Grapes Of Wrath, and months since I reported on my half way impressions. This final view may surprise you. It does me.
TTTW continued to drag and drag and go from one trite, pointless scene to the next. Blending the interest and relevance of human romance with the intrigue and imagination of science fiction is a fine idea. Science fiction has been used as a vehicle for every type of story, and with great effect, but not this time. Well, there was great effect: I previously wrote about my tendency to gag over many long drawn out, boring passages.
The novel did culminate with a scene that an actual romantic guy like myself could appreciate. But do I think it was worth all the agony? No!
Now to the classic of classics: The Grapes of Wrath
My early impressions of Steinbeck's fascinating descriptive powers still hold. I will say, however, that as the story progressed, he seemed less inclined to use said powers. Perhaps they became less important as matters of the story, and of the characters, took over. I found myself totally involved with the Joad family, with their struggles, and with their future: "What would happen in this ever threatening new land?"
As family characters dropped out of the story for one reason or another, I realized that I was being manipulated to care less about the individuals and more about the larger societal issues at stake. And rightly so, sort of. A society must be organized and policed as a whole, but in such a way as to benefit the welfare of the individual. When I finally got to the phrase given to the title of the novel I found a very significant relevance to our own headlines of the day.
In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 25
In the story it was the landowners, both of Oklahoma and California that had it in their power and in their interest, to be in control of the poor individuals who would do anything, or work for any wage, in order to provide for their families. In our day, it is the government itself which has become the overriding, oppressive agency of control. The government, whether federal, state, or even local, is too often overreaching its limits and serving itself rather than the individual citizen or family. "In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy," is a phrase easily ascribed to today's 'tea party' movement. In his novel, Steinbeck never reached a description of how the wrath of the people might finally burst forth, but in our day it is revealed simply in a stronger than ever determination of citizens to confront our leaders in debate, and in threatening to vote more deliberately for a change.
As the pages wore away, and the characters struggled on and on with continued hardship, I wondered how Steinbeck could possibly reconcile the reader's desire for a satisfying ending, with the disappointments and true miseries of life as we know it.
I don't know how I really expected it to end: what would I do? Describe some miraculous overcoming of "The Man"? Or leave my readers with the harsh reality of the poor being downtrodden to the last?
It seems that Steinbeck himself could not decide what to do, and so he ended the story with a ridiculous, probably self indulgent scene, that almost brought me to the Time Traveler's Wife gagging state! Perhaps I am too unsophisticated to appreciate the high points of fine literature, to allow the metaphor or allegory to take it's place over a simple realistic story line, but there it is.
I prefer the real life ending that our modern equivalent storyline is coming to: The successful replacement of an overriding big government, with the simple wills of many little freedom loving people.