The saga of the Joad family's dire trek from the Oklahoma dustbowl to California was read by millions at its 1939 release. The book was a huge hit with the public and has been firmly embedded in high school curricula essentially ever since. It's a book that can change the trajectory of lives and challenge people to hope. It is easy to forget how far the world has come, and how quickly. There were no Motel 6s for the Joads, and they couldn't live on credit cards until things looked up. Modern readers do well to contemplate just how few generations separate them and their indoor plumbing from the crippling poverty of forebearers. For the Joads, during the Great Depression, survival came before material well-being. With this family, Steinbeck shows us the pride and dignity of a people who have suffered the loss of everything. This American tale transcends America and is universal: Jews fleeing the Cossacks, the Vietnamese boat people, evacuees of Hurricane Katrina all understand what Tom Joad understands, namely that he'll endure; wherever you look, he'll be there. The Grapes of Wrath is adored by high-brow and low-brow. It lends itself to retelling: in 1940 John Ford adapted Steinbeck's book for the cinema. Decades later it was seen by the young Bruce Springsteen and it affects his work and our lives still today.
Now available in a Penguin Classics edition, Steinbeck's classic comes with a completely revised Introduction and, for the first time, detailed notes by leading Steinbeck scholar Robert DeMott.