Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Steinbeck's Dust Bowl Gnomes

Kathy Shaidle has a piece about recent efforts to examine the accuracy of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.

I have never been happy about historical fiction, because so many read it and assume that the history presented is fairly accurate.  Under the best of conditions, history gets damaged by the dramatic needs of the novel.  When the author has an ideological axe to grind, the results are often far astray.

One of my American history professors assigned Grapes of Wrath when I was an undergraduate, and I was not at all happy about it.  While it is a powerful novel, there were many areas that seemed tendentious to me, and talking to people that I knew who actually lived through those times (like my mother), gave me reasons to suspect that Steinbeck's well-known leftist ideology was driving too much of it.  In some cases, Grapes of Wrath had geographic flaws that show he was writing from his imagination, not from any actual knowledge of Route 66.

I suppose that I should look for my criticism of the book, and upload it.

In some sense, facts did not really matter.  It was a powerful novel that made Americans feel sorry for the poor and angry at nasty old capitalism -- and yet another reason why one powerful novel matters more than hundreds of earnest and serious non-fiction books, or thousands of scholarly articles, or millions of blog posts.  (Maybe it is time to get to back to that novel I am writing.)


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