The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is considered a classic novel by many inthe literary field. The trials and tribulations of the Joad family and othermigrants is told throughout this novel. In order to gain a perspective into thelives of “Oakies”, Steinbeck uses themes and language of the troublingtimes of the Great Depression.
Some of these aspects are critiqued because oftheir vulgarity and adult nature. In some places, The Grapes of Wrath has beenedited or banned. These challenges undermine Steinbeck’s attempts to add realityto the novel and are unjustified. In 1939, The Grapes of Wrath was published andcame under fire for its content.
Vulgarity and the misrepresentation of apreacher were the main complaints that led to the ban and burning of the novelfrom St. Louis, Missouri libraries in September 1939. Vulgarity may be prevalentin the book, but it has its purpose. Steinbeck used some vulgar terms toaccurately represent the lingo and slang that was used by the people of the1930’s. Most of the terms that were considered vulgar may be a bit distasteful,but is nothing that is not heard on the streets today. Extreme profanity is notextraneous in the novel, in fact, it is tame compared to slang terms used today.
Casy, the former preacher that was traveling with the Joads, is not be given theconnotation as the most holy man. Casy did not consider himself a minister atthe time The Grapes of Wrath takes place. “But I ain’t a preacher nomore” is spoken many times by Casy in denial that he is a man of the cloth. Indeed, Casy is brutally killed in the novel, but it does not go into graphic,violent detail.
Once again, Casy’s feelings against the employers and governmentwere common to the time and were used to state that idea. Another point ofcontroversy lies on The Grapes of Wrath’s closing sequence. In this finale, anold man nurses from Rose of Sharon, a young women whose baby was deliveredstillborn. Some believe this is pornographic, sexually oriented, and improper,especially for young children.
In fact in some states, the sequence is takenout. This sequence may be a vulgar, but it is an essential element to the noveland is in no way pornographic. It shows the desperation of the migrants to doanything to survive, no matter what the implications may entail. Those who aremissing this ending, such as those who read editions in Texas, are missing thisimportant element of The Grapes of Wrath. These readers may never fullyunderstand the lives of migrants in the 1930’s .
The novel may have some adultcontent, but it was never meant to be read by young children. The targetaudience, ages over 14, can look beyond the visual picture and fully ascertainthe section’s deeper meaning. Others may critique Steinbeck’s use of socialisticand anti-government messages. During the 1930’s, these ideas were very common. In fact, Upton Sinclair, a socialist writer, was nearly elected governor ofCalifornia. Living conditions, the opposition between the Californians and the”Oakies”, and the inability to break out of the depression all addedto beliefs of the times.
Steinbeck was not advocating socialism, he was justreflecting the times. Without these individual beliefs of the “reds”and other people that showed either socialistic or anti-establishment messages,the reader would get a dry, unfulfilled perspective of the lives of peopleduring the Great Depression. Censorship does have its place in society. Thereare many things that are too risqué, degrading, and should not be shown. Pornography, extreme sexual content, and extreme gratuitous violence does nothave its place in literature or in society. The Grapes of Wrath does not haveany of these above aspects.
Of those who choose to ban this book and other worksof literature with questionable themes, many of them are wrapped up in politicalcorrectness. In literature, life should be shown like they it is, not as someonewould like it to be. As much as political correctness advocates would like tochange things for the better, they cannot change the past no matter how hardthey try.