A Banned Classic that’s Timely Now

Arvind Balaraman

“How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.”

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was set during the Great Depression and published in 1939 but the themes are current – economic hardship, loan default, migrant workers, hunger.  Steinbeck said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.”  And he did a good job.  I’ll never forgot the scene when Rose of Sharon, who has just lost her baby, breastfeeds a sick and dying man.  It’s profoundly sad yet shows the strength of human kindness.

Steinbeck was attacked for writing about the conditions of California farm workers.  The book was burned and banned.  It was criticized on talk radio.  But it was also well read.   Grapes won the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and the Nobel Prize.

Have you written to “rip a reader’s nerves?”  Would you let public criticism stop you?

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