The Grapes of Wrath: The Praise and Criticism of John Steinbeck

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In April 1939 John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath, a fervent depiction of the plight one dispossessed family faced from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma, to the ‘Promised Land’ of California. This sociologically and politically accurate publication evoked a surge of emotional reactions to the general message of the novel. However, this ability to evoke emotion aroused mass hysteria from part of the American public, and notably in politicians and self-appointed guardians of ethics. A number of early critics, and even readers, remarked on the vulgarity of The Grapes of Wrath. Upon its publication it was burned by farmers and for years after was among the most frequently banned books in America because of its profanity (Stanley 43). The Grapes of Wrath struck such a deep nerve it was deplored on the floors of Congress for its radicalism (Steinbeck). Oklahoma Congressman Lyle Boren went as far as to call it “the black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind” (Stanley 2). Steinbeck's novel also harvested a downbeat response reflected in many book reviews and literary essays. Burton Rascoe of Newsweek called The Grapes of Wrath a “mess of silly propaganda, superficial observation, careless infidelity to the proper use of idiom, tasteless, pornographical, and categorical talk” (Cordyack). However, the most vicious of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California. They were discontented with the book's depiction of California farmer’s attitude and demeanor to the migrants (that they responded with fear instead of charity, and took advantage of the migrants desperation for food, work, and land [Leithauser v-xii]), and its ‘one-sidedness’ in the migrant’s favor. They denounced it as a “pack of lies” and labeled it “communist propaganda.” Steinbeck’s liberal political views (influenced by radical writers such as Lincoln Steffens, Ella
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