The Grapes of Wrath

I am apparently incapable of giving a post a title that is not the title of a famous work by another author. Is there a support group for this?

I found myself thinking tonight about the Irish allegory that my edition of Dracula says lurks under the surface of the story, and all the poorness and starvation and suffering of 19th-century Irish potato farmers, when all of a sudden, The Grapes of Wrath popped into my head. It’s been a long time since I read Steinbeck’s novel, but the gist as I recall it is that farmers during the dust bowl era who couldn’t make a go of it on their own land moved westward and have a horrific time of it, rather like the Irish potato farmers Stoker must have had in mind as he wrote about his blood-sucking absentee landlord type figure.

And then that final dramatic scene of The Grapes of Wrath flashed into the foreground for me. I suppose I’ll be spoiling Steinbeck’s book here for any who haven’t read it, though I’ll try to be a little oblique about it. That final scene is a similar sort of cannibalism to what we see (or will see, I presume) in Dracula and less directly in “A Modest Proposal,” isn’t it? Yet, for all the uproar over its being indecent or pornography or whatever some prudes have made that final scene out to be, it’s the most wholesome sort of parasitism. It’s the free offering of the self rather than a sort of rape; it’s the other side of the coin from what Swift and (I gather) Stoker were writing in opposition to, in which the well-off feed on the poor by force. Steinbeck shows us the poor helping the poorer, and what a triumphant thing that is! How validating of the human spirit at its best when confronting the human condition at its worst.

This makes me think of a post I wrote while reading Infinite Jest in which I noted that Wallace was exposing so much sadness and brokenness for which, I feared, there was perhaps no remedy. I begin to harbor a suspicion that works like Swift’s and Stoker’s may be demonstrative of a problem without providing any sort of real hope or solution. I don’t suppose Steinbeck provided any sort of solution either, but in The Grapes of Wrath, he does offer a glimmer of hope. Perhaps for the next installment of Infinite Summer, we should read something marked by unbridled hope, if only to cleanse the palate for 2666, which has its share and then some of despair.

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