On a spring day in the 1970's, I sat in a classroom on the third floor of the Neosho Intermediate School in math class but my mind wasn't on equations. It should have been, since math was always my weakest subject unless it involved money. Even at that age, however, my love of reading won over math so from my seat in the back of the classroom, I was reading John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath for the first time.
By 7th grade, I had become a consummate reader, most often preferring adult novels to the fare provided to junior high kids at the time. I'd been reading selected adult books since fourth grade, novels vetted and provided by my parents.
Gone With The Wind was one of the earliest and despite it's length, I read it through. I loved it so much that for my 10th birthday, my dad replaced the double rowed Book of the Month club edition on my mom's bookshelves with my own copy. I still have that copy, which survived a tornado.
The Grapes of Wrath was one of my dad's favorite books and he suggested it to me.
From the first page, I was engaged. The chapters that carry the story are interspersed with chapters that are snapshots of the time, the 1930's when many Americans, especially Okies, headed for California and what they hoped would be a better life.
After I finished the novel, my dad asked me what I thought - I told him it made me hungry. He agreed that it did - and then I told him it also provided me with a deeper appreciation for what I had. There may have been times when I thought we were poor, especially after my dad's long time employer Swft & Company closed in St. Joseph, MO and he spent two years as route truck driver but after reading The Grapes of Wrath, I felt rich. And I learned about relativity.
Like my dad, The Grapes of Wrath remains a favorite read, one I revisit every few years. I reread it late last year and it still caught my attention and drew me into the story. It's an emotional read.
From reading The Grapes of Wrath, I went on to read Steinbeck's other works including Of Mice and Men, The Red Pony, The Pearl and East of Eden. All were novels that I enjoyed that also enriched me and made me think.
On May 6, 1940, John Steinbeck received a Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath. The book was made into a movie directed by John Ford in 1940. Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, and John Carradine, all legendary actors, starred in the movie which won Ford an Academy Award.The movie was nominated in six other categories.
The title originates from a passage in the Book of Revelation that talks of an angel throwing grapes into the winepress of God. In her classic Battle Hymn to The Republic, Julia Ward Howe used the phrase "where the grapes of wrath are stored."
If you haven't read or seen this classic novel, May might be a good time to make the leap.
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is the community editor for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also a novelist and freelance writer.