Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Up ahead they's a thousan' lives we might live, but when it comes, it'll on'y be one

It's Tuesday which means it's time for another Grapes of Wrath readalong post! This time we're dealing with chapters 12-18. Heads up, there will be spoilers. And the sadness is mounting.

The family stops to get some gas and they are accused of being bums, the family's dog gets run over, and then grandpa dies. Damn Steinbeck. I need a minute
Turns out drugging Grandpa was probably not the best idea. Who will Grandma shoot in the ass? Who will button their shirt into their underwear? Who will give us even a second of comic relief?

There are moments that aren't quite so depressing. Everyone is in a shitty situation. We haven't met anyone really living it up during this exodus from the dustbowl. What we do get to see is people being kind to one another. And I mean perfect strangers. People sharing a limited and ever dwindling supply of food, caring for the sick, helping keep the cars running. Thank you Steinbeck, because if it was just wave after wave of awful things happening to the Joads and then people being terrible to each other, I wouldn't be able to take it.

Even the scene with waitress Mae and cook Al gives me happy feelings. Mae and Al may be staying put, their lives aren't being completely uprooted but they're affected by the depression. So when the family asks to buy a loaf of bread you may not like it, but you at least understand her reluctance. They can't do this for everyone that comes by or they'll have to go on the move as well. While you can understand it, you still want Mae to relent. So it's that much more touching when she sells the boys two pieces of nickle candy for a penny. Then you see this pay-it-forward as the truckers leave her a large tip. It's like those commercials for...something.* (I guess I could look it up. Could being the important word there.)

 BUT Steinbeck isn't done with the awfulness in this section. So after a couple chapters of things happy (happy in the relative Grapes of Wrath way) things naturally have to turn around. All those times of people being not-assholes to each other are over, and all the happy feelings are done.
Grandma's been raving ever since Grandpa passed. Which is sweet in a messed up, Grapes of Wrath version of sweet (similar to that version of happy before). Ma tells everyone she's just tired, including the very pushy people that insist on busting into the tent to loudly pray for her. And then...you know...

Noah wanders off and decides he's not going to head off to California with the family and instead he'll hang out by the river and eat fish. And Tom really doesn't do too much to convince him otherwise, which seems mean when you consider how important Ma said keeping the family together is. Jerk.

To make up for all of those people being nice to each other in trying times, we have the cops in California being general assholes to people. Assholes with some purpose, as they are trying to make sure shanty towns don't show up along the highway as the displaced farmers give up their trek and stop wherever their cars give out. Which, while not a fun thing, isn't being awful for the sake of being awful. Though they do seem to take joy in being assholes.

Ma, however, is continuing to kick ass. And a few times that gets literal and she threatens to first beat down anyone suggesting that the family split up. Then she stands up to the cop who busts in on the family when they're camping to tell them to move along. Then she convinces the border guards to let her and her family go through while she stays in the back of the truck with Grandma's body. Ma is the best. She is stronger than all of the other characters put together.

To counter all of the sadness that has come and is yet to come, here's a waving bear.
Waving Bear
I am afraid of what the Joads have to deal with next. Maybe we all stop now and assume that California is 10x as awesome as the Joads think (ignoring all of the families coming back from Cali telling them how terrible it is) and everyone is happy the end.

PS cos I forgot to mention that Rosasharn & Connie totally do it right next to the dying/dead body of Grandma. Apparently that is the comic relief we get and Grandpa isn't around to button his shirt into his underwear.

*Or, you know, it's like the Pay It Forward movie. But that's clearly too obvious.

Title quote from page 168

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. Penguin, 1992. Originally published 1939