Frank J. Taylor, "California's Grapes of Wrath," 1939
Before The Grapes of Wrath was published, one of its editors suggested to Steinbeck that Rose of Sharon's offer of her breast to the starving man occurs too abruptly. It needs leading up to. Here is part of Steinbeck's reply:
...I'm sorry but I cannot change that ending. it is casual- there is no fruity climax, it is not more important than any other Part of the book- if there is a symbol, it is a survival symbol not a love symbol, it must be an accident, it must be a stranger, and it must be quick. To build this stranger into the structure of the book would be to warp the whole meaning of the book. The fact that the Joads don't know him, don't care about him, have no ties to him- that is the emphasis.
John Steinbeck, Letters (January 16, 1939)
Many readers, including the author of the following, have been offended by the novel.
To Steinbeck, the deadliest of the deadly sins is simply being a typical American citizen- that is, a member of the middle classes. Hatred of the middle classes is in fact... one of the main "clues" to the understanding of his fiction...
But surely it is disconcerting to find that the author hates you, the reader, with a powerful, compulsive hatred; that the tolerance he speaks of so smoothly is in fact never extended to you, and that just in having been born on the right side of the tracks you have committed the one unpardonable sin.
Now the mere amount and proportion of obscene language in The Grapes of Wrath are not, to be sure, especially high. Pungent Saxon monosyllables are much scarcer there than in the casual talk of schoolboys, where the same words are taken for granted and make little or no impression. But in The Grapes of Wrath these identical words seem more objectionable because the writer's imagination has so joined fact and idea, and image and word, as to startle the reader into aversion or even nausea.
-Walter Fuller Taylor, "The Grapes of Wrath Reconsidered," 1959
The moment in the novel that has provoked the most commentary is Rose of Sharon's encounter in the barn with the dying man.
Rose of Sharon's act, though dignified by various religious and mythic allusions, needs only its own power to demonstrate nobility. The transformation of her nature in a moment of crisis merely epitomizes the general movement of the novel from concerns of the flesh to concerns of the spirit.
John R. Reed, "The Grapes of Wrath and the Ethics of Indigence," 1969
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